Minnesota Bison Association
Helping Members Successfully Raise and Promote Bison

March 2018: Promise Farm Buffalo

Menomonie, Wisconsin

John and Shawn McMartin

Post Bison Musings

It has been over one year “post bison” for John and I. On December 23rd, 2016 the last of our bison were loaded out; thus ending 32 years of bison roaming on Promise Farm.

Many factors played into our decision to go “Post Bison”. While we are confident that, for us, it was the right decision to make, there are many lingering effects. I think back to the time when we were contemplating bringing bison to the farm. We attended a bison conference. I recall the older gentleman who sat across the table from us during the banquet. When I inquired as to what changes we would have to make in order to raise bison he looked me straight in the eye and said, “The bison will change you.” How true that statement has proven to be!

We started off our bison adventure making all of the novice bison mistakes. We even added a few unique ones of our own. I will bet that not many people have had to call into work to say “I can’t come in today because one of our buffalo has a tire stuck on its head!” And so the adventure began.

We learned quickly that to be successful with this animal our plans needed to be modified through a bison filter. Their instincts, characteristics and basic makeup would prove ultimately paramount to ours. In every way we found it typically best to work from their perspective.

A question we often heard was “Have they ever gotten out?” The answer is yes. We had various numbers of animals get out 3 times over the course of years. Never due to them challenging a fence. Once occurred because of a miscommunication over who had closed which gate. Once due to a tree limb taking a section of fence down during a storm and one 18 month old heifer that was pushed through the fence by unruly peers. Fortunately only the latter incident ended poorly for the bison involved.

I also learned that I can indeed climb a tree with the best of them the day I inadvertently stepped between a first calf heifer and her surprise newborn on the first day of a November deer season. But there were only two times where a “doctor worthy” injury actually occurred. And I must admit, both times I was the one at fault. The buffalo were just being buffalo. I had gotten complaisant and careless and treated them as cattle. They ARE NOT cattle. That has always been abundantly clear!

This spring our pastures were silent. Gone were the impish calves and grunting mamas. The trees seemed to hang lower and the pond was eerily devoid of splashing hooves. Finally in late May springing heifers from our neighbor’s dairy farm populated the paddocks. It is indeed good to have life there again. But it abundantly clear as I watch over them that cattle ARE NOT bison!

Mostly we have treasured every day we were privileged to raise this incredible animal. their realm. They have given essence to our imaginations by their glory and basic sustenance to countless lives and cultures wise enough to glean all that they have to offer. May they never be taken for granted!

Our lives are forever richer for our experience with bison. We feel truly blessed by both our connection to the animal itself and the comradery of the people we have encountered within its sphere. Whatever life holds for us next, we will never forget our bison years!

~Affectionately Submitted.
Shawn McMartin,
Promise Farm



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