Where the buffalo roam

When Cal Brink retired from the Schwan Food Co. about three years ago, he went looking for something to occupy his time that fit in with his passion for promoting local business and community activity through the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce.

Though Brink does not come from a farming background, he found it raising buffalo. And soon buffalo from his acreage near Lynd will be available through vendors in Marshall.

“My wife and I love Deadwood and the Black Hills,” Brink said. “When we were out there we saw one, and I said, ‘I’d like to have one.'”

Brink started asking around among people who knew the business, which very well could have made him give up the idea as a passing fancy.

“Everyone said about how they’re crazy and mean, and they break fences,” Brink said. “It just made me want them more.”

Brink bought a trailer and started going to auctions. From an original herd of five, he now keeps between 20 and 30, depending on the season and how many he sells.

Brink admits it’s been a challenge. A buffalo can run 35 to 40 mph and jump five to six feet in the air. Brink started with 40 acres and recently bought another 40. He will determine if those acres will be used to expand the herd, depending on demand.

“Everybody told me, ‘If they want out, they’re going to get out,’ and it’s true,” Brink said. “The trick is to get them good food and good water, make them not want out.”

Brink plans to sell buffalo through different outlets in Marshall. Hy-Vee will carry everything: steaks, roasts, ground. The Hitching Post is planning to offer chopped bison steak, and The Gambler will have buffalo sliders and burgers.

Hy-Vee is planning to install a portable freezer unit dedicated to buffalo, according to store manager Jeff Mueller.

“We’ve had buffalo before, but it kind of gets lost on the freezer aisle,” Mueller said. “This will make it stick out.”

Buffalo meat is higher in protein and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef. Brink said people who can’t eat most red meat can eat buffalo.

Brink plans to donate about a 10th of the buffalo meat produced through few different venues.

“We donated some to the Hospice Gala, which they sold for $500,” Brink said. “We hope to have people coming to me and asking what we can do for them. The more I sell, the more I can donate.”

Buffalo meat sells well in spite of the price among people who have tasted it, and there is a thriving market for skulls and buffalo robes. But it’s not as profitable as raising cattle.

“I never got into it to make money, and I’m having a real easy time not making money,” Brink said. “But I didn’t want to do something usual, I wanted something unique. There’s something mysterious about buffalo and how it’s connected to the history of the Indians and the West.”