Mother Nature rules at the Cold Creek Buffalo Company
East of I-25 near the Colorado and Wyoming border, a large herd roams the land. However, this is not your average herd. This is where the buffalo roam, on their home on the range.
The buffalo belong to Boyd Meyer, who runs Cold Creek Buffalo Company with his wife Allison. The Bison run on the Terry Bison Ranch in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Meyer originally started in the business in the mid 1990s, but it was in 2002 that the herd really took off. “We took the kids to the National Western Stock Show and happened to step back into business,” he said.
He has been in the business for more than 10 years, and has now built his herd up to include 800 cows. He has 3,700 total, including cows, bulls and feeder animals.
The bison were moved to their current location at the Terry Bison Ranch in 2006, where they can roam on more than 27,000 acres. Meyer uses a rotational grazing system with the bison, so the land is not overgrazed.
Prior to running buffalo, Meyer ran beef cattle. However, he quickly learned that managing beef cattle and managing buffalo were very different.
The buffalo are much more independent, and need very little help. Meyer said, “When they are having babies, they stay away from you. There is no assisting them. They are calving on their own, which is a big plus.”
In addition to calving, Meyer has found that the buffalo are much more efficient with feed, and work with the seasons.
“The buffalo cows are a lot more efficient than a beef cow. We only feed hay maybe a month out of the year. When they are on hay, they will eat 14-15 pounds per cow, where a beef cow will eat 30 pounds in a day. It’s a Mother Nature thing with a buffalo cow. They are used to foraging in the winter so they eat a lot less,” Meyer said.
Meyer and his crew have also learned that to move bison, you must have patience and a good plan. Meyer uses a truck with a protein supplement called cake to lead the buffalo where he wants them to go.
“When moving buffalo, it’s just about being patient. We lead them with this truck. It’s a good thing to do because it’s about the only way you can handle them. If you are going a mile or less, you can herd them. Anything farther, you need to lead them. We use four wheelers, because a bison will outmaneuver a horse. You don’t want to get in that position where they can kill you,” he said.
He continued, “You are not going to force them to do anything they do not want to do. As long as you are patient, you are fine. If they run towards something they will hit it as hard as they can, so we try to prevent that. You can’t treat or handle them like cattle or it blows up in your face. It took a good four or five years for me to get past some of the cattle handling I knew,” said Meyer.
When working the buffalo through a chute, everything is hydraulic to keep people safe. The crew uses a series of gates and rattle paddles to move the bison through the system. Meyer uses a Silencer chute, because of its ease and the way it has held up. A reinforced plate in front of the chute keeps the Bison from getting through the chute too quickly, because they tend to push through if they can.
Fences can also be a problem with buffalo, as they can charge through just about anything. However, Meyer has found a pretty simple solution to this challenge. “Just keep them happy to keep them in. If they want out of anything, they will get out. I’ve seen them jump 6-foot fences flat-footed. As long as you don’t pressure them, and they are happy with feed, they are less likely to eat across the fence. If they decide they want out, you can’t stop them,” he said.
He has also learned that he can’t keep many bulls past 6 or 7 years of age, because they tend to develop a mind of their own at that time. “They have figured out they don’t really have to do anything. They are pretty independent by then,” Meyer said.
In addition to the cows and bulls, Meyer feeds out calves as well. He keeps the majority of his calves, and buys other calves to meet the demand he has. He finishes 2,500-3,000 head per year, at a market weight of around 1,100 pounds, which they reach in 20-28 months of age.
The calves are fed diets high in fiber, and generally low in concentrate. The rations are composed of soy hull pellets, cracked corn and wet distiller’s grains.
“Our weaning ration is composed of 65 percent soy hull pellets, which is very high in fiber. We can get about 2 pounds of gain per day on that, which would be very hard to do on beef cattle,” said Meyer.
Buffalo producers don’t want their animals to marble like cattle producers. People who eat buffalo do so because it is a leaner meat, and marbling would counter act what the market wants.
Meyer then has his buffalo processed at Double J Meats in Pierce, Colo. The whole carcasses are then transported to Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Denver, where they are fabricated. “They are the largest processor or bison in the country,” said Meyer.
His product goes out to stores such as Whole Foods, King Soopers and Safeway, just to name a few.
In addition to raising calves, Meyer also raises bulls to sell at a bull sale every year. This year, the sale took place on February 18, in Denver, Colo.
“That is one thing we try to specialize in. We are to provide seedstock for other producers so they can build quality herds,” he said.
Meyer also sells bred heifers, yearling heifers and heifer calves. He has a show herd of 43 cows and two bulls, where the majority of his seedstock come from.
Even though raising buffalo is different, Meyer really enjoys the animals that he has. He takes pride in raising buffalo, and has a lot of respect for their power. “I enjoy the animal. They are very self sufficient, and majestic. It’s amazing to me the Mother Nature side of thing that they have figured out so well,” he said.