The MFL Bison Ranch Philosophy
Faith, Family and Community
Updated - 04 Feb 21
At MFL we put faith, family and community high on the priority list. The family is the basic building block of a just and peaceful society and we're committed to making our family, and family business, into a valuable contributor to our local community and wider society.
Holistic Rangeland Management
At MFL Bison Ranch Ltd, we're committed to Holistic Rangeland Management.
What this means in our ecosystem and brittleness band (semi-brittle) is Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing (AMP), otherwise known as 'Holistic Planned Grazing' or 'Cell Grazing'. The key to this management philosophy is the 'adaptive' bit. Stock density and the 'exposure' and 'recovery' periods for individual paddocks are varied according to the growth cycle of the grasses, sedges and forbes in the paddocks. A plan is written out before the beginning of the growing season, based on average rainfall. Then, as the season gets moving, the plan is revised to match the actual in-year growth rates.
Maintaining high biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem is in keeping with our goal of regenerative agriculture. Much of our ranch consists of native Parkland Aspen forest and grassland. We're continuing a program of cross-fencing to improve our management fidelity, using the adaptive planned grazing to stimulate the 'predator pressure' that kept herds moving in the wild, preventing overgrazing and a subsequent loss in diversity and damage to the soil ecosystem.
While we can't use fire to knock back forest and brush, as would have happened on a regular basis in the wild, we can use mechanical means such as mowing, to achieve similar effects. We are also investigating the possibility of using other species of livestock to control the woodier species of plants. Goats, for instance, are browsers and consume a different forage diet than bison so can graze the same paddocks without significantly impacting the forage supply for either species.
In keeping with a holistic system, we use herbicides sparingly and only when required to control invasive species.
We have no use for pesticides and prefer to encourage all the good bugs to come in and eat the bad ones. Besides, our honey bees wouldn't thank us for making their local foraging areas toxic. Our bees are a good barometer of the health of our land.
Not all of our land is in it's original native state. Where it isn't, we have recently adopted multi-species cocktail crops in place of the single, dual or triple species common in many tame hay/pasture fields in modern agriculture.
Where required to renew forage land, or address a low or degraded resource, we'll seed multi-species annuals selected for their ability to build soil resource and support a healthy insect and wildlife population. We are working toward being equipped to do this work using minimum-till techniques, and where possible, no-till.
Where tame pasture or hay land requires rejuvenation, our goal is to seed in additional species of grasses, legumes and forbes to encourage the soil biology and natural ecosystem to improve soil health, sequester soil carbon and improve water cycling.
In addition, we'll expand and improve our use of our bison as components of the nutrient cycle. As Alan Savory and several other researchers discovered, and many regenerative producers have demonstrated, grazing herbivores, particularly ruminants, are essential to native grasslands environments and their absence actually results in a loss of plant, insect and other animal diversity. Our bison visit all of our land, pasture and forage crop land, at some time during the year with all of our hay land being pastured each autumn. Our aim is to increase the use of standing forage for autumn and winter feed, increasing our retention of valuable biomass and recycling nutrients on all of our land.
It'll take us a few years to build the diversity in our tame pasture/hay land, but our largest hay-field was seeded to an 8-species annual cocktail crop in 2017, and was seeded to a multi-species perennial forage crop in 2019. This included 7 grasses; a meadow brome, an orchardgrass, three varieties of tall fescue and two varieties of slender wheatgrass. In addition, it has 3 legumes; cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and a red clover.
Our next hay field renewal was worked to a very shallow level with a high speed disc harrow in 2018. The aim is to level out what has become an extremely rough field while causing minimum disturbance of the soil biology. It was then immediately be seeded to a green feed mix, including winter triticale (spring seeded, harvested as grass), Italian ryegrass, hairy vetch, annual ryegrass and sweet clover. It was then baled as greenfeed in 2018, interseeded with more triticale, hairy vetch and clover in 2019 and baled again. In 2020 it was seeded down with winter triticale and a perennial mix of 7 grasses and 4 legumes. This field was grazed in the autumn of 2020 and the forage harvested in the summer is currently being fed back on that field during the winter months, returning the biomass back to the field.
We now have the ability to renew hay fields using minimum tillage. We purchased a rebuilt and modified Haybuster 107 no-till seed drill. This drill will allow us to seed into most soil conditions, including established pastures. This means that a rough field will get minimum shallow passes with a high speed disc to level out the surface, followed by a blend of annuals and perennials with no further tillage. This can be followed up by another pass with perennials if the first seeding was in a season for establishing a good stand.
Two shallow tillage passes that leave 80% of the soil structure untouched every 8-10 years is pretty good, and if our efforts to control the pocket gopher population are successful, we may be able to stretch that a few years.
If we can convert over to feeding standing forage in the winter, then our requirement to manage hay land will decrease and, perhaps, cease completely.
The next stage is to cross-fence the hay land to allow us to graze it up in the spring and early summer, then leave it go grow winter feed. The intent is to get the equivalent of two to three growth cycles each season with animal impact.
High Quality Breeding Stock
At the core of our business is our breeding stock. Through careful selection of phenotypically strong and high performing animals from diverse backgrounds, we have developed our herds of healthy, high performing bison who thrive in their natural environment with little human intervention apart from rangeland management and quality mineral supplement to replace the minerals they'd have found in the wild where they were highly mobile.
Our Plains bison gain well on natural forage and equal or exceed the performance of most cross-bred bison with excellent consistency and early finishing.
Nutritious, Natural & Tasty
Bison meat is THE premium red meat. Lean, extremely digestible, and a great source of healthy proteins. Bison are raised hormone free and steroid free. In addition, Bison is the best non-synthetic source of dietary iron you'll find and, if appropriately fed, provides a healthy Omega 3 : Omega 6 fatty acid balance.
It's the food we choose to eat at home and feed our kids. Nutritionally dense and produced in a regenerative system, our bison are helping to build a healthy, natural and diverse ecology while providing a healthy, natural and healthy dietary protein.
The bison win and we win. There aren't many win-win situations in this world, but the return of bison meat to the dinner table is one of them.
The North American Plains Bison experienced a dramatic reduction in population in the late 19th century and only escaped dramatic loss of genetic diversity due to the forward thinking actions of a few ranchers and parks personnel who took measures to rapidly expand the remaining herd to many times its bottleneck size. Unfortunately, many public herds are operated as closed populations in numbers too small to prevent genetic drift and a loss of genetic diversity.
Genetic diversity is key to the health and long term survival of any species. Diversity provides any population with the greatest ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions and respond to disease. Poor diversity results in restricted immunity and vulnerability to a multitude of pathogens.
The deleterious effects of genetic drift can be seen by comparing the health, birth and calf survival rates and growth performance of public herds against well managed private herds living in the same environmental conditions. The situation has become so serious in some smaller public and preservation herds that outside intervention has been required to prevent them dying out entirely.
Excellent work on this issue has been undertaken by a few key scientists, notably Dr Derr of Texas A&M University, and many park managers are being made aware of the problems they face. Unfortunately, corporate inertia, bureaucratic red tape and interference by well meaning but scientifically ignorant lobby groups has, thus far, prevented significant improvement in managing and improving the public park herd genome.
We are fortunate that, as a private ranch, we are unencumbered by such limitations and can respond rapidly to advances in the science of genomics and manage our herd as an open herd, refreshing herd genetics from diverse sources regularly, closely mimicking the rapid transfer of genetics inherent in wild nomadic herds. This maintenance of genetic diversity is beneficial to the short and long term health of our bison, and the long term preservation of a natural treasure.
As DNA testing becomes more advanced and cost effective, our ability to preserve the bison genome will become more effective. We enjoy being at the cutting edge of this science and it's an integral part of our business plan.
Our bison are truly wild Plains Bison. They may be habituated to human activity, but if they were all suddenly transported back to 1840, none of them would miss us.
Of course we'd miss them, but that's not the point.