John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 4-1-13

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Having written about the rise and fall, the history, and some of the territorial conflicts related to buffalo, it’s time to look at what it’s like to eat the meat.

There are two different marketing groups when it comes to buffalo. Some call it “Buffalo,” which may indicate that the animals were actually fed in a feedlot. They may have been calved on a ranch, but were moved to confinement at the typical feeder size — about 600 pounds — for finishing on corn. Even many health food store outlets get their fresh buffalo from feedlot sources.

The other marketing term is “Bison” which usually means the animals are grass fed to the finish and may even have been slaughtered and processed in a non-conventional way. Bison tend to be marketed under the branded meat concept, with a story to go along with the meat, such as: the animals roamed where Indians once hunted. These producers are marketing an image along with a meat.

Buffalo meat is low in fat, which is a virtue for many Americans with various health problems that suggest a low fat diet. A quarter pound (113 grams) of buffalo or bison burger, for example, has 3.5 grams of fat and only 160 calories, while the same portion of typical ground beef has 29 grams of fat and 340 calories.

Of course, much depends on what cuts are used to make the ground meat — typically shoulder meat, scraps, and some round — but these numbers are a reasonably fair comparison and can be verified by checking labels at a supermarket.

Why buffalo meat is lower in fat relates to a basic fact about mammals. When born, mammals are mostly water, with small amounts of fat, protein and minerals, and very little carbohydrate. As mammals age, their constitution becomes more and more fat. Because buffalo tend to have a longer life than cattle, they reach physiological maturity at an older age, which means less of their body mass has started the long, slow conversion to fat at the point when they reach optimal weight for slaughter.

This is why old mammals such as myself are told to drink lots of water and eat less fat. In the end, I will probably be shriveled up and fat, but in the meantime, I will try to eat more bison! ❖