Tuesday, June 10, 2014

National Bison Association Summer Conference and Ranch Tour 2014

The National Bison Association is known for promoting and preserving the American Bison and serving as a resource for bison producers and enthusiasts.  Up until this week, that was pretty much all I knew about the NBA. Then the long awaited conference ranch tour rolled around – hosted by none other than Miller Bison at Elkhead Ranch. Since Caleb and I came on board in February of this year, just about everything we’ve worked on and projects that have been completed has been in preparation for this conference tour. 

By about 10am on Wednesday June 4th (the day of the tour and the start of the conference), everything was in place. Fencerows were weed-eated, barns, porches and corrals were painted, bison were front and center, tables and chairs were set up, portapotties were installed and bison burgers and hot dogs were on the grill. We were set. 

Bison Shaped Burger Patties on the grill for lunch at the ranch.

The whole Miller Bison at Elkhead Ranch crew was sporting matching polos with our logo, and man, we looked sharp. All we lacked now were the buses full of NBA members. They showed up right when expected, and that was when my real lesson on the NBA began.  

The lunch buffet line went off without a hitch thanks to our catering partners at Club 60!
Loading the busses for the ranch tour.

Randy talking about our corral system during the ranch tour.
People involved in the bison industry are fantastic. I love these people. They are friendly, knowledgeable and curious and have the most giving spirits of any folks I’ve ever seen. Caleb and I moved through the crowd of 200 plus, greeting, visiting and passing out business cards, and people talked to us like we were old friends. Being the ranch managers was something akin to being a celebrity – everyone wanted to compliment us on the ranch and the stock and the amount of work that had been put into the event. 

Lunch was fantastic – and of course featured bison meat – and the tour went off without a hitch. It was a long day, but I was sad to see everyone go.  After cleaning up, the question was “what the heck do we do now?”

The next day, Thursday, June 5th, was a day of conferencing at the Chateau on the Lake in Branson.  It was pretty fancy – all the NBA members had breakfast together and there was a waiter standing by just to pour orange juice!  

One of the panels during the conference.
Then the presentations began. First was a panel on farm-direct marketing with some of the association members. Next we all had a break to visit the vendors that carried awesome homemade products like bison jewelry, home d├ęcor, and socks made from bison hair. Then there was a presentation by Dr. Joseph Craine discussing how the changing climate will affect bison. 

Lunch was the next item on the agenda – bison short ribs donated by the president of the NBA. I don’t like short ribs. But these short ribs…they were magical. I’ve never had anything so good. The short ribs were rivaled only by the pecan pie the Chateau served for dessert. 

The next presentation was made by Wes Olson, one of the premier bison experts in North America. He tackled the question of whether Plains Bison and Woods Bison are subspecies or ecotypes. His well laid out research findings said that Woods and Plains are indeed, subspecies. I found this particular presentation very interesting, since we have both Plains and Woods Cross at on our ranch. 

The final class of the day was presented by Amy and Michael Billings of The Buffalo Lodge in Kingsville, MO. Their talk was of special interest for Caleb and I, because they were recounting their adventures in agritourism, something that we are starting to vamp up at Miller Bison at Elkhead Ranch. 

A painting in the conference room at Chateau on the Lake.

As the day wore on, it became apparent that several of the people Caleb and I had spoken with the previous day at the tour were big names in the bison industry – and we hadn’t had a clue. And that is something that makes these people near and dear to my heart – they are humble. We’re all connected by a pretty fantastic animal, and nobody plays the winning or losing game in this business. It’s all about support, sharing resources, and making friends. That is how we preserve the American Bison, and make memorable, lasting connections. I was moved to tears when a sweet lady named Marilyn, an association member and a vendor, found out that I was getting married in July and proceeded to give me a set of bison themed ornaments for my first Christmas tree as a gift. They are currently hanging in my kitchen until the holidays roll around, and I think of Marilyn every time I see them. A painting in the conference room at Chateau on the Lake.

At dinner that evening (bison top sirloin!), Wes Olson invited us to sit with him and his wife (an outstanding bison photographer) along with some Canadian folks, and a couple from Missouri as well. We all shared stories and swapped bison observations and when Wes found out about Caleb and I’s upcoming wedding, he proposed a very nice toast. When it was time to leave, everyone promised to keep in touch, and several invitations for Caleb and I to come visit and stay with our new friends were extended.

All said and done, it was a pretty great event, and I’m rather sad that it’s over. But it’s nice to know that so many wonderful people are backing what we do here at Miller Bison at Elkhead Ranch – and I can’t wait for the next NBA Conference to roll around!


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