Grazing for planet and human health

My first experience with buffalo producers was speaking to the Alberta Bison Association in March of 2018 and, not surprisingly, I had a similar experience recently in Rapid City, South Dakota, with the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association. Although I found no difference between the producers in Canada and the United States, I feel like I am more in tune with exactly how the buffalo producer is the tip of spear in the challenges we face today in not only food production but also property rights. This group of food animal owners is certainly part of the solution and is not contributing to the problem.

Today we have people who want to use the romance of the American buffalo as a means of grabbing land that they can then take out of food production. The phrase that seems to generate a tremendous amount of positive public sentiment is “Rewilding America.” The powers that be fantasize about capturing these majestic beasts for a role in their “real” American experience. The people I was hanging with in Rapid City are not part of this romantic notion of what buffalo roaming is all about.

The grazing animal is absolutely vital as the key component to improving the health of the planet and human health. From the standpoint of American buffalo, eating them must occur to completely achieve the full value of the species. I have concerns about those with the rewilding movement because they do not see the human consumption portion as a viable part of this process.

First off, I cannot deny that there is something extremely remarkable about the sight of this beast ambling across the prairie. The American buffalo is truly an icon, ranking right up there with the American cowboy as something that sends a message to the entire world. However, beyond all the romance of just observing a grazing buffalo, you must have a demand for the consumptive use of the animal. Not that long ago, full use of every buffalo harvested was not completely certain but the demand for buffalo meat has been on the rise.

You may have noticed that I have referred to this group as “buffalo” producers rather than “bison” producers. Little did most of us know, the water buffalo folks have been trying to gain an advantage in marketing by labeling their product as “buffalo” instead of “water buffalo” which is clearly misleading. Interestingly, two days after this gathering in Rapid City, a group of bipartisan federal officials announced they are sponsoring legislation to clarify this labeling inconsistency and make it more transparent for consumers so they won’t be confused when purchasing buffalo.

I was privileged to spend the weekend with members of the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association, who are simply ranchers who have chosen buffalo instead of beef cattle to graze their land and improve human lives. It is important that we keep this selective group of livestock producers on the land producing something that people need and desire. I am not going to tell you that I think grazing buffalo is superior to grazing cattle but I think it speaks to our property rights that we always have that choice to make regarding which is best for our operation. Likewise, the nutrient profiles for the two protein sources are similar.

We need these buffalo to be owned by people who understand grazing as a vital part of our ecosystem while still preserving a glimpse of Plains history. We need them to be managed by stewards of the land while receiving animal husbandry from private owners who understand good livestock management. The whole system creates value and maintains property rights for all of us.

The future of the planet relies on a blend of animal husbandry and consumptive use of grazing animals like the American buffalo. I was blessed to spend time with a group of buffalo breeders that share a mindset that grazing is the best path forward to a healthy future for both the planet and the humans who live there.

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the views of High Plains Journal. Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].