Health-minded carnivores have gone wild for bison meat over the past several years, with overall sales doubling since 2005, according to the National Bison Association in Westminster, Colo.
That's promising news, except the herd is having a hard time keeping up with demand. Ranchers processed some 92,000 bison last year — less than one day's worth of beef production — but upping those numbers won't happen quickly. The animals are slow growers, with females not maturing until age 3.
Price pushbacks have helped. Bison is averaging $7 a pound, up from $5 a year ago, while overall meat prices have increased 28% due to rising commodity costs. The NBA doesn't expect this will dent demand, however, for a red meat that's low in fat and cholesterol and similar in flavor to its bovine counterpart. The group's current focus is on attracting new ranchers and increasing herd sizes for existing ones, and negotiating additional federal funding.
“Our main task today is to work with producers, and prospective producers, to build the herds of buffalo across the country to keep pace with our growing markets,” said Dave Carter, executive director of the NBA.
One advantage they have: thick hides. According to Carter, harsh winters like this year's can be tough on domesticated livestock, but are no problem for the hardy bison.