Minnesota Bison Association
Helping Members Successfully Raise and Promote Bison

September 2020: Quarter Master Buffalo

You could see a true appreciation in the eyes of Don Solwold as he watched his bison herd graze mere feet in front of him. “This animal is just as amazing now as it was when I brought the first one home,” said Don. That is quite a testament, because at 87, the first time bison hooves stepped on his rural Esko property took place over 46 years ago.

Originally from the Red River Valley, Don joined the United States Airforce, which brought him west to Montana. It is here where he got a small taste of what life with bison might be like. Having been fascinated with the animal, Don decided to buy a single bull. As he describes it, he quickly learned his first lesson in that you can’t just have one, let alone a three-year-old bull who has never experienced a fence before.

Don was transferred to Duluth to work with the Air National Guard in 1971. Two years later, he purchased his 100-acre farm from the same family that had homesteaded the property a century before, making it the oldest farmstead in Thomson Township. The extra space was probably a good thing as Don and his wife, Marlene, raised five girls. Having also grown up in western Minnesota, Don said his wife was never interested in living on a farm. Those feelings changed when Marlene fell in love with their new home. In 1974, Don’s dream of raising bison became a reality when he brought home his first animals, marking the official start of Quarter Master Buffalo.

Quarter Master Buffalo SignIn those days, very few consumers had gotten a taste of bison. People wanted to try steak, but they were too used to the consistency of beef. He said he had to work extremely hard to develop a customer base that would use ground meat. Over time, local restaurants began buying up everything they could get a hold of.

For nearly 20 years, Don raised bison in Minnesota before there was a state association. That all changed in the early 1990s when he helped to establish what would become the Minnesota Bison Association, making him a charter member. He speaks fondly about all the people he’s met along the way. As he says, it takes a different breed to make it in this business. “There’s something about a buffalo raiser that’s like a touch of insanity,” he said laughing. “But I identify with them.”

Of course, this story would not be complete without also talking about Rowdy. Back in 2012, Don was checking his herd when he discovered one of his cows had given birth to twins. The cow accepted one calf but orphaned the other. Don brought the orphaned bull calf into his home to care for it. The calf, named Rowdy, was fed every four hours while being brushed with a wide-paddle brush to simulate his mother’s tongue. Over time Rowdy continued to grow, eventually establishing himself as the herd bull. To this day, Rowdy visits the fence when Don’s near, allowing him to brush the animal’s head.

Don SolwoldAt the peak of his operation, Don owned 90 head of bison. His herd is much smaller these days, consisting of 10 cows and Rowdy. His good-natured humor was on full display as he stated he has no plans to expand right now. But chores still need to be completed, and thanks to assistance from his son-in-law, Mychal, and daughter, Lori, the work is still getting done.

After working with bison for nearly half a century, Don says the best advice he can give to those potentially looking to get into the business is to do it. “There’s probably no other commodity in which you can penetrate more deeply into the chain. You can raise them and sell them. If you’re interested in that, there’s a market.”

If you visit Don, don’t be surprised if you’re met with a kind-hearted offering of banana bread and a cup of coffee. If you’re lucky, he might even show you his prized possession – a chair once owned by Buffalo Bill Cody when he spent time in the Duluth area. That chair, by the way, has since been refurbished to appropriately feature bison leather.

Whether it is raising a loving family, a career in the military, or raising bison for nearly 50 years, Don Solwold has lived quite a life. In honor of his service to our association, the bison industry, and the U.S. military, the MnBA graciously thanks Don for all his time and efforts.

 

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