by Larry Cutforth, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Monty, Larry, and Rose Mason decided to try something different on their 480 acres of rolling ground after it came out of CRP a few years ago. As Monty Mason explained, with two families to support on three quarters, they could either sell out or search for a highly profitable enterprise. Conventional corn and soybeans would not generate the income they needed to support themselves. After considering alternatives such as emus and pot-belly pigs, they decided that raising buffalo fit them the best.
Today, the Masons graze 190 head of buffalo on nine different pastures. The transition from CRP ground to pasture has been hard work, but slowly the natural grasses that buffalo prefer are coming back. The Masons use management intensive grazing to accomplish this without the use of chemical fertilizer or pesticides. By mimicking the natural system, management intensive grazing "fools" the grass into believing it is being treated the way it is supposed to be, claims Monty.
Word of mouth created a lot of local interest in the buffalo operation. To capitalize on this interest, the Masons took up their neighbors suggestion to start giving buffalo tours for a small fee. This idea blossomed into a profitable on-farm tourism business. Last year, over 4,000 people visited the Masons ranch to learn more about our prairie heritage. Visitors came from 48 states and 14 different foreign countries, including Switzerland and Brazil.
Visitors are led out in a converted covered wagon to get a close look at the buffalo and learn about the natural relationship of the buffalo and the prairie. Back at the ranch, Rose demonstrates pioneer crafts like spinning. Buffalo meat can be purchased on the farm. The Masons offer a buffalo sandwich lunch, so that visitors can taste the meat and hopefully develop an appetite for more.
Deb Stordt, a visitor from Sioux City, remarked that the ranch is preserving the past and the land while producing a healthy product.
According to Rose, almost all of their publicity has been through word-of mouth: "Word-of-mouth is the very best. Weve tried paying for promotion, like ads in the newspaper, but it doesnt work." Because of this, the Masons are careful to treat everyone well and make sure that each visitor leaves satisfied.
The Masons speak about their ranch at different clubs, and they have brochures at tourist information centers and interstate rest stops. They cooperate with other area businesses, like Cuthills Vineyards in Pierce and local restaurants, to let people know about the many tourism opportunities in northeast Nebraska.
Buffalo pose many management challenges. The Masons learned about buffalo from other ranchers before starting out. A 1,600 pound buffalo capable of running faster than a horse is not the easiest animal to corral into the next pasture, so they lead them with alfalfa pellets. The buffalo stay on the pasture year round and respect the fences as long as they have enough to eat and some room to roam.
Grass-fed buffalo meat can have less cholesterol than chicken and 35% more protein than corn-fed beef. The all natural buffalo meat that the Masons produce is a healthy alternative.
Tours may be arranged by contacting Larry, Rose, and Monty Mason, 57957 871 Road. Dixon, NE 68732; (402)584-2337. Buffalo (bison) meat is available. Call 1-800-297-1379 for information.
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