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Pa. man raises buffalo herd

February 17, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - David Fox recently eased his tractor up to the 5-foot-high fence, lifted the loader and dumped a large round bale of timothy hay onto the other side.

Not long afterward, a 1,900-pound bison bull made his way over the snow-covered pasture to the bale, sniffed it and butted the grassy mass with his immense brown, woolly head and impressive horns. Then he pulled off a clump and started chewing.

The buffalo barely acknowledged the onlookers who were admiring him from behind a 10-strand electric wire fence.

"It's neat to be a part of bringing this animal back," said Fox, eying his biggest animal in the herd of 39 buffalo at Bison Ridge Inc., located on Pa. 75.

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Although Fox plans to sell some of his buffalo for meat, he said he'll mainly breed the buffalo and sell the calves.

A native of Mercersburg and a 1983 graduate of James Buchanan High School, Fox moved back to the 180-acre family farm after working in business for several years in York, Pa.

He began raising buffalo last July.

"I had the land and I wanted to do something different," said Fox, who wants eventually to have 100 bison.

Fox, who never farmed before, said he learned everything he knows about buffalo from reading, research and talking to other buffalo owners.

"What's great about them is they're easy to take care of," Fox said.

So easy, in fact, that Fox said raising and breeding buffalo probably will become more of a hobby than a job.

Veterinarian costs are low, Fox said. Buffalo cows rarely have trouble giving birth to their calves - usually one every year for 20 to 25 years, Fox said.

The hardy animals live outside all year around and their diet consists of hay and grass from the pasture.

"That's what keeps them so lean," Fox said.

Lean to the extent that buffalo meat is supposedly lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than turkey, chicken and beef, said Elizabeth Straub, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Bison Association and co-owner with her husband, Norman, of Bison Haven Ranch in Grove City, Pa.

Norman is the Southern Pennsylvania District Director of the Eastern Bison Association.

"It's a sweet meat," Fox said. "It's sweeter than beef and it doesn't have a wild game taste. ... Once you try it, you get hooked."

Considered a delicacy in the 1800s, buffalo meat is making a comeback and gaining popularity as a menu item in restaurants.

"In the East, it's definitely a big thing," Elizabeth Straub said. "The buffalo market is just breaking through . . . The bigger producers and larger slaughterhouses are also marketing it differently."

Although there is a demand for the meat, particularly in Europe, consumers will pay the price.

Most cuts of buffalo meat sell for $2 a pound, and ground meat goes for up to $4 a pound, Fox said.

"It's not something people will buy every day, but it's a good alternative and another way to eat red meat," Fox said.

It's not just the meat that interests people. Nearly every part of the animal, including the skull and tanned hide, can be sold, Fox said.

He said he's even had inquiries for the brains and tail.

What for? "I didn't ask," he said.

North America once was home to large herds of buffalo, but the population was whittled down to as few as 300 by 1886, said Straub.

There are now an estimated 125,000 to 200,000 buffalo in the United States and Canada, according to Straub.

"It's a major comeback," she said.

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