A Trip to Carolina Bison in Leicester, North Carolina and a Recipe for Buffalo Sliders
Frankie King recently finished his service in the military, returned home to Asheville and now manages Carolina Bison. He was our tour guide around the farm, which is in Leicester, North Carolina. We were also accompanied by Rachael Brownlee, a certified health and nutrition coach as well as a local food blogger who writes Girl in An Apron. Rachael has written several articles about Carolina Bison for local publications.
If you are wondering (like we were) what the difference is between a buffalo and a bison…there is no difference. The name “buffalo” was given to the species because their skins were called “buffs” many years ago and the name stuck. However, their genetics are the same and the correct name is the American Bison.
Like many people, I conjure up thoughts of the West, the Plains, settlers, covered wagons, and Native Americans when I think of bison. I consider them to be a true symbol of American history. I was really honored to be able to be able to visit with these animals that were once on the brink of extinction.
I was totally amazed at how close we were able to get to the bison and were even able to touch them and feed them. Frankie said that back in the summer they would practically jump into the truck to be fed because the bulls were “feeding out” at that time, which was prior to their breeding season. He said they instinctively eat heavily prior to breeding season. Since we were there during breeding season, they were not as anxious to come up to us to feed. During the breeding season they don’t eat much and lose weight while mating. (I’m not even going down that road…).
Bison males (bulls) will only breed with ten to fifteen females (compared with male cows, also called bulls, that will mate with one hundred females. Now you know where that term “stud” must come from.). Frankie said there is even a courting process with the females that lasts three or four days (some of us girls don’t even get that). The hierarchy of the herd is based on breeding. Even the females compete with each other (in fact, we saw a bit of jousting between several females while we were there).
The dominate male (or leader of the herd) will breed with whomever he wants. Fellow bulls of the same age or those coming up will fight for dominance. Whoever gets beat in this battle essentially is out of the herd and will follow the rest of the herd from a distance. If it is an older bull, this defeat may have permanently broken his spirit and he may never mate again.
Bison can live up to 45 years and one fascinating thing we learned was that their head will continue to grow for ten years, even when the body is fully grown. That is why, if you see an older bison, that their heads may seem disproportionate to their bodies.
The prime harvesting age for the bison ranges between 24 to 30 months. They will weigh about 1100 pounds at this age. If they are any older than that, the meat cannot be used for steaks, only ground meat. An average bison will yield about 550 pounds of hanging weight, which in turn equals about 375 pounds of saleable meat. All natural, grass fed cows will yield approximately the same, however, mainstream (or regular grain fed) beef will yield slightly more.
As we stopped along the way to feed the bison and take photographs, we were reminded (on several occasions) to watch our backs. Frankie has been butted a fair number of times by these animals. They are still wild animals and can be unpredictable. He said to keep an eye on their tail. If it goes up, you better get right back on the truck!
Bison are quick (they can run up to 35 miles per hour) and strong (some can weigh as much as 2500 pounds) and may not always be friendly. In fact, Frankie told us that the bulls can take a bale of hay measuring 6 feet by 6 feet that weight 1500 pounds and toss it around like a beach ball. Just think what they could do to you!
Bison in the wild (according to statistics at Yellowstone National Park between 1980 and 1999) were three times more likely to kill or injure people than bears. Of course, they are not carnivores and generally will attack humans only when provoked. I still found it amazing to be able to walk right next to them in this environment and feel reasonably safe.