The Face of the New American Bison Rancher

Photographs by Morgan Rachel Levy for Bloomberg

Attendees at the International Bison Conference in Big Sky, Montana, earlier this month included 6-year-olds, teenagers, millennials, mid-life career changers, and grandparents. The enormous, shaggy animals, once hunted to the edge of extinction, are making a comeback as a chic, healthy, and environmentally friendly source of meat. It’s healthier than beef, with more protein and less fat than salmon, and it is also more lucrative for ranchers.

A pound of ground beef retails for $4.99 per pound at the moment, according to USDA data. Ground bison currently sells for more than twice that price, at $10.99 per pound. The past three years have seen a 25 percent increase in sales in the retail and food service sectors, according to the trade group, bringing in about $350 million in 2016. The bison industry, unlike some of its peers in meat production, is keenly aware that climate change is a looming threat to the health of the herds, and ultimately to profits. Among the crowds in Big Sky, there seemed to be a consensus that the bison industry would need to adapt.

  

Clarisse and Martin d’Hoffschmidt, siblings and bison ranchers at Ted Turner’s Flying D ranch during the 2017 International Bison Conference in Big Sky, Mont.

Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.

Craig Denny, a bison rancher, in Big Sky, Mont.

Lincoln and Miller Graese of North Star Ranch.

Ben Janis, director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and director of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe wildlife program.

Cody Bennett, a member of the Thieman family, a multigenerational bison ranching family.

Leslie Yearout, who goes back for the roundup every year at one of Turner's ranches.

Eva and Sophia Staudinger in Big Sky, Mont.

Brandeon Hampton, a bison rancher, in Big Sky, Mont.

Brittany Masters and Jonathan Sepp of Roam Free Bison Bites.

Duane Hayes, a bison rancher, in Big Sky, Mont.

Margaret (Mimi) Hilldenbrand, a bison rancher, and her mentee, Sarah Gleason.