Where the buffalo [used to] roam

Gem Farms bison crossing the New York State Thruway. Photo from the Times Union, http://www.timesunion.com.

Bison can swim?

That was my first thought when I read the amusing but sad accounts about a herd of buffalo that escaped from Gem Farms in Schodack and traveled as many as 20 miles, most of them swimming across the Hudson River, crossing the Thruway and wandering into Bethlehem, where they eventually were dispatched.

My second thought was more somber. Man, bison farming is tough.

I buy bison every year — usually from a farmer in the area — for our annual Sacandaga Sportsmen’s Day. The first time, it was from the Adirondack Buffalo Company up in North Hudson. But last year, it was harder to find and I ordered from US Foods instead.

That’s because the company we used for three years in the middle, the Grumpy Buffalo Farm, appeared to go out of business after a difficult and dangerous seven months.

First came the escape in summer 2013. A dozen bison reportedly rushed past a farm worker and disappeared into the Schoharie County woods. They were located relatively quickly and most survived capture and the trip back to the farm.

Then came the goring. Brian Ware, who helps the farm’s owners, was charged and then stabbed in the abdomen by a female bison while preparing while helping to prepare the farm’s animals for a trip to a New Jersey ranch. The female had been separated from her baby.

I’d met Brian on one of my visits to the farm, and he was very helpful. I felt horrible for him, and for the owners, Tim and Roberta, who were always very generous to camp in their pricing and in their donations of shirts and mugs as door prizes for our event.

But they’d been in harm’s way for so long. Bison can weigh up 1,500 pounds, and while capable of being gentle, they can also inflict damage as they reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.

I don’t know where our bison will come from next winter. Maybe Schodack. Maybe North Hudson. Maybe US Foods, I don’t know. But I’ll have a new appreciation for it when it arrives. These farmers aren’t raising chickens.

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