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Clover Cliff Ranch's owners exited to bring back bison

Clover Cliff Ranch’s owners exited to bring back bison

Staff writer

The first bison that arrived last week at Clover Cliff Ranch were the result of effort by Spencer and father Warren Harshman to reintroduce them to the area.

“We’ve been talking about bison for quite a few years,” Spencer said. “It’s kind of hard to get into. We started talking to people and met some of the right people.”

The Harshmans began making plans for the bison breeding operation in December, Warren said.

“I wouldn’t consider this if Spencer was not interested,” he said. “He’ll be the driving force. He’ll be the day-to-day guy.”

If all goes well, the family will start offering paid tours.

They intend to pass the operation on to the next generation, Spencer said.

“Absolutely, that’s one of the main reasons we’re doing it,” he said. “We think it’s going to be good for this generation, the next, and hopefully 50 after that.”

A lifelong resident of Clements three miles west, Warren said reintroducing bison to Clover Cliff Ranch has historical significance as well.

When it was settled in 1860 there were 30 million to 60 million bison roaming the area, but within 20 years they were all but extinguished, Warren said.

“Here we are 140 years later, bringing them back where they were,” he said. “That’s a pretty exciting concept for us. There has been a lot of interest.”

They’re now establishing contacts. Developing a marketing network is important before bison are ready to be sold, Warren said.

“We think there will be a growing demand because bison is a very lean protein,” he said. “It’s very low in cholesterol and fat. It has less cholesterol and fat than chicken. It’s a very healthy meat.”

In addition to producing leaner meat, bison eat less than cattle, Warren said.

“They require about 70% as much feed and acreage as a cow,” he said. “They don’t eat as much.

Since they are still figuring out what works best, the Harshmans are starting with nine acres a head of female bison. In addition to the 300 at Clover Cliff, there are 200 head of bison at their property along Diamond Creek Rd.

Cattle and bison both gestate their young for nine months, but bison do so later in the year.

Having their calves in April or May allows bison to eat better grass, which produces higher quality milk for calves, Spencer said.

“You really can’t pick your dates,” he said. “They’re still wild. They’re still on God’s calendar, not ours.”

Transitioning from beef production to bison requires strong fences and awareness of potential hazards, Warren said.

“During that breeding season bulls become very dominant and aggressive,” he said. “It’s really not a safe time to be out here. It’s the same when the mama cows are having babies in April and May, they’re very protective.”

The Harshmans acquired their bison, most of which came from Beaumont in Butler County, thanks to word-of-mouth. The more sure-fire path, however, is to find breeders through National Bison Association’s website, Spencer said.

“They have it all going on,” he said. “You can find anything you want on the web, I guess.”

Last modified March 4, 2020

 

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