There’s Strength in the Herd

Bison are herd animals,

So too, I’m beginning to think, are their owners.

Conventional wisdom holds that bison producers are a fiercely independent bunch.  I don’t deny that. Getting into the bison business—particularly in the early days…only a few years back—was the equivalent of venturing into the agricultural wilderness. Being the topic of discussion at the local coffee shop was the least of the hurdles. Extension agents, ag lenders, insurance providers and others looked a little more than askance at anyone putting up fencing and stocking their pastures with buffalo. Outright hostility from some neighbors wasn’t uncommon.

In a sense, it was kind of like being surrounded by predators.

Bison producers, like their animals, learned that survival meant staying together. Just as a lone bison will seek out a herd, producers sought out each other. They developed networks, formed associations, gathered to exchange information, and offered moral support. Working together, they became stronger.

I thought about that a few days ago, as bison producers from across North America gathered in Denver for the annual National Bison Association Winter Conference.  More than 500 ranchers, marketers and enthusiasts came together for three days of information and education. We acknowledge that we are still learning from the animals under our stewardship. But the willingness to share those learnings is evident each time that the herd gathers.

It was encouraging to see that newcomers comprised roughly 20 percent of the participants in the winter conference. Just as encouraging, was to see longtime veterans of our business sharing their experiences…mistakes as well as successes.

Our business has grown and thrived because fiercely independent people recognized early on that there was strength in the herd. Because of their commitment, the herd survived financial disasters, disease threats and misguided public policies.

Being a bison producer is still a bit like being a renegade. But fortunately, the herd is stronger than ever, and equipped to help each new renegade succeed.