They decided to try something a little different. Tom Walker, a Toronto truck driver, and his wife, Mary Graydon, left the rat race in 2004 and started a bison farm in Noelville.
They are two of the handful of farmers in Ontario who are farming bison. Alberta has the majority of bison farms in Canada; Ontario farms are responsible for about five percent of the national output.
Prior to European settlement in the 1800s, there were millions of bison roaming the country. They were hunted almost to extinction in the late 19th century. There were fewer than 1,000 in 1900. Today there are approximately 250,000 bison being farmed in Canada. The sale of bison meat has doubled since 2005.
The North American bison lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species reside in Africa and Asia. European settlers mistook the bison for buffalo and the name stuck.
Graydon and Walker call their farm Graywalk Buffalo Ranch (graywalk.webs.com).
Farming bison takes some time. The couple bought their first animal in 2004, and they didn’t start selling meat until 2007. Today, they have more than 40 bison on their farm.
Graydon says bison farmers are challenged to keep up with the demand for meat.
Bison are interesting animals. They can jump as high as six feet and run 40 mph. The life span of a bison is about 25 years.
“Bison are more hands off, they’re still wild animals,” says Graydon. “We need sturdy fencing and to respect them as wild animals. They aren’t easily moved like cattle.” If bisons are confined, they will flee.
Graywalk is a “green farm” and Graydon and Walker do not use chemicals or growth hormones. The bison are fed a diet of grass and hay in the winter.
Bison meat is very low in fat and is considered by many to be an alternative to the meat found in grocery stores. It tastes much like beef with a slightly sweeter and richer flavour. Bison meat cooks quickly, so it is best to cook at a low temperature slowly. It’s best served medium rare or rare.
Bison meat is high in iron, selenium and Vitamin B-12. It is low in fat, 1/3 less fat than beef which adds to its appeal.
The meat can be purchased at Graywalk in Noelville or at Eat Local Sudbury on Larch St. Meat is cut into steaks, roasts, ribs, patties and ground.
The farmers learned how to raise the bison just by watching them and simply respecting their ways.
“They don’t like to be bothered,” Graydon says. As wild animals they basically take care of themselves. “They are one the few animals you can leave out in the winter. They just lay down and let the wind go over them.”
Slow Cooked Bison in Wine
2 1/8 lbs boneless bison blade steak cut into two-inch cubes
½ cup (250 ml) hot water
2 tsp (10 ml) beef bouillon powder
10 oz (284 ml) cream of mushroom soup
10 oz (284 ml) mushroom pieces drained
1 x 1 ½ oz (1 x 42 g) envelope of onion soup mix
½ cup (125 ml) red wine
Place bison cubes in 6 quart (6L) slow cooker. Stir hot water and bouillon powder together in medium bowl. Add soup, mushroom pieces, soup mix and wine. Stir. Pour over bison cubes. Cover. Cook on low for seven to eight hours or high for three to four hours.