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Buffalo in Rice Lake?

A herd of buffalo and newborn calves grazing at a local ranch near Rice Lake

Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play…  Oddly, that song just popped into my head the other day and stuck there awhile.  Apparently, there was a good reason for it, as I soon found out.

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Correct me if I’m wrong…

For anyone who has watched the movie “Dances with Wolves”, you may quickly recognize the word for the American bison, which is tatanka in the Lakota (Native American) language.  There are lots of names for the American Bison.  A wildlife biologist will tell you that the scientific name for the plains version of the animal is: Bison bison bison (the genus, species, and sub-species classification).

Some people incorrectly, as I found out, call them “buffalo”.  That’s a word that comes from the French “bœuf”.  It is technically not correct, unless they are referring to the animals living in Africa and Asia.  Buffalo and Bison are actually two totally different animals.  Most people don’t know the difference, and still call bison by the name buffalo. So much for details…

Anyway, on a recent mission to locate flooring products, we stumbled upon a sign outside a building in Cameron, Wisconsin, (just a few miles south of Rice Lake) that read “Northstar Bison Tours”.  Curious, we stopped in.  There numerous freezers lined up along the walls that were filled with various game products – like elk and venison – as well as some corn and soy-free pork.  There were also several coolers filled with various cuts of bison meat.

Bison meat in your diet

I Googled it and found that there are numerous advantages to eating bison meat.   According to a website I found:  “American Heart Association Recommends Bison“.

Since we had not tried bison meat before, we decided to 1) buy some bison burger and a couple bison strip steaks and 2) sign up for an upcoming tour of a bison ranch in nearby Haugen.  Spoiler alert: both the bison burger and strip steak were excellent; the meat was very lean and very tasty, and we will definitely return to buy more!

young bison named KiddWe were ready for a new adventure. And, we were really looking forward to the tour of the bison ranch coming up in a couple weeks. It took place on Thursday, the 9th of June. The ranch was only about a mile east of Haugen, WI, eleven miles north of Rice Lake.  We arrived about twenty minutes early and had an opportunity to get “up close and personal” with a two-year-old bison named Kidd, just prior to the tour.  We were told that trying to “train” a bison is a very difficult thing to do.  They are definitely not docile, like a cow would be!  Gotta say, though… Kidd was pretty darn cute!

Getting ready

In preparation for the tour, I did a little reading about bison.  I was not fully aware of their incredible numbers – about 30 million – around the year 1800, when hunting the animals began in earnest. Less than 100 years later (1884), only about 325 remained!  Luckily, a few concerned citizens had the foresight to protect the last of this species. Now, about 20, 000 are roaming public lands.  And thanks to eco-conscious ranchers like NorthStar (and hopefully others), those numbers continue to grow.

As tours go, I would have to say this one was a bit different from most, as it consisted mostly of a trip by wagon out into a gigantic pasture to get a close-up view of a small herd of bison.  We moved up at a snail’s pace, as bison like to be left alone, don’t really like people, and they spook easily.  Once we arrived, the group – consisting of a number of adults and about a dozen or so calves (sometimes called “Red Dogs” due to their color shortly after birth)  – stopped moving and settled down.

Northstar Bison owners Lee & Mary GraeseOwners Lee and Mary Graese then shared a wealth of information about bison. This knowledge ranged from the health advantages of the meat, to their personal beliefs about the importance of treating land and life with respect. It also included how much grass a 2500 lb. bison can eat in a day (about 40 pounds!), and the value of raising and harvesting the bison in the most ethical and dignified way.  Since 1994, when NorthStar Bison was founded, the family operation has included a commitment to the animal’s health and well-being.

Lunch time!

The bison were getting restless again, and we were getting hungry – and ready for lunch. The tour included a grilled bison burger!  Time had flown by and, with lunch over, it was time to head back to Rice Lake.  We had a super good time at The Ranch that day! And If you are even mildly curious about bison, how they are raised by NorthStar and the role they may play in the future of the world, I strongly urge you to take the NorthStar bison tour.  It is a well-worth your time tour! You can visit the store in Cameron, WI, or simply go to the website: northstarbison.com.

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We became full-time residents of the City of Rice Lake in 2021. It has been our goal and desire to contribute and give back to the City in a manner that will be as helpful as possible. It is also our goal to dedicate our efforts – and a steadily progressing and growing website – to the people and businesses of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Yvonne & Richard