This is part of our ROAM series, which charts the progress of our recently acquired ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Read the first piece here , the second here, and the third here.
This month, we reintroduced two separate herds of yearling heifer (female) bison onto the pastures of ROAM Ranch. It was one of the most majestic acts I’ve ever witnessed.
As hard as it is to believe, this is the first time bison have grazed on our Central Texas grasslands in over 160 years. It’s been too long. These amazing animals are the architects of the most resilient prairie ecosystems this country has ever seen — which gives us tremendous excitement about the positive change they will soon bring to the property. The return of the bison to ROAM also makes our in-house regenerative field experiment the closest commercial bison ranch to our state’s capital, Austin, putting us in an incredible position to share our story with the world. Already, we are starting to schedule tours for key General Mills policymakers and are developing educational seminars for Central Texas Ranchers. The goal here is simple: share the holistic management principles of EPIC’s closest agricultural partners (like the Savory Institute, White Oak Pastures, and Northstar Bison) while continuing to fight for the food revolution our consumers are fueling. By providing a series of hands-on learning stations, we’ll demonstrate how properly-managed animal impact can restore soil, strengthen native ecosystems, address water scarcity concerns, and regenerative rural economies.
Back to our heroes, the noble bison. Without their natural instincts and unmatched land stewarding skills, it would be nearly impossible to create a net-positive return to the land. With them on our side, we’re proving animal impact truly can revitalize our planet. As of today, we have 63 18-month-old female bison out at the ranch. Our resident teenagers, these ladies will breed for the first time in their young lives this coming spring. (Fun fact: bison can breed well into their forties, making them one of nature’s most prolific procreators.) For now, we are focusing on developing an airtight grazing plan, getting the animals adapted to the property, and training them to respond favorably to our daily interactions. The goal is to have them learn and respect their boundaries, become comfortable with a high-density grazing approach — which is crucial in holistic management — and build nutrition through the winter months. Once we’ve made that happen, we’re going to bring on four lucky breeding bulls to tend to and grow the herd. Our target date is 45 days from now!
We’re incredibly encouraged by the progress we’ve seen so far. The animals are adapting quickly to the new home and, aside from the occasion rumbling, the ladies have even established a new pecking order. The chosen leader among the heifers? Bison #22, who we lovingly refer to as Poppy. The most curious and trusting of all the animals, Poppy is always the first to greet us in the morning and is known to sprint through ROAM’s fields to welcome visitors to the pasture. Naturally then, as a herding species, the rest of the bison follow our gregarious gal wherever she goes. Poppy’s ascension isn’t just for show, though — the establishment of a strong leader is a huge advantage for high-density “mob” style grazing, enabling us to quickly move the herds between pastures every couple of days. This may sound simple, but there’s an old saying in bison ranching: “you can convince a bison to do anything it wants to do.” Unlike cattle, the ramifications for pushing a bison to do something without its consent can quickly result in broken bones, flipped utility vehicles, and significant damage to your pickup truck. With all that in mind, we’re stoked to have Poppy around to lead the way.
Our ROAM family is still growing. In fact, because bison have a similar gestation cycle to humans, we expect our herd to double in size by early 2019. To support such a large (and growing) number of animals, we will need to optimize the productivity of our pastures and nearly triple our current carrying capacity — no small feat, considering we are already running twice the number of animals recommended by our county’s agricultural services. That’s why we’re going to focus on building organic matter in the soil, restoring biodiversity of native grass species, and increasing the density of grass. When it’s all set and done, our 450-acre property will be as productive as a ranch over five times its size! Through these breakthroughs, we’re going to prove holistic management principles are more ecologically-responsible and more economical than any conventional model.
Every day is a chance to improve our world. Whether you’re a land steward yourself, a conscious consumer, or just a supporter from afar, I can’t thank you enough for helping us further EPIC’s missions to revolutionize our food systems. I also can’t wait to check back in with y’all next month to update you on the ranch, Poppy, and share our latest learnings and observations. Until then, may you embrace the spirit of a free-range ROAM bison and make the world a better place!