Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Leon “Joe” Davis (left), a beefalo rancher from Dayton, Wyo., describes members of his herd to the Little Big Horn College Rangeland Club at a corral west of Crow Agency. Pictured from the left are Davis, Club Advisor Velma Pickett and Club President Rusty LaFrance.The first beefalo from Leon “Joe” Davis’ herd exits his stock trailer and into the Little Big Horn College corral.Guard llama Cooper Lima Bean munches on vegetation while examining his new surroundings.

Where the beefalo roam

Dayton, Wyo. rancher donates herd to LBHC Rangeland Club
Mud splashed over hooves late Monday morning as seven beefalo and their guard llama, Cooper Lima Bean, exited a stock trailer after they finished a 60-mile trip from Dayton, Wyo. to a corral west of Crow Agency. As the animals began munching on grass from within their new home, their former owner Leon “Joe” Davis briefed members of Little Big Horn College’s Rangeland Club on each of the herbivores’ temperaments.
“The yellow cow is pretty docile,” he told them. “The foal, just watch him…he’ll throw his head a little bit.”
Beefalo, he believes, maintain the meat, milk and hide traits enough to “carry the gift of the bison forward,” without the added danger of owning a full bison – a wild animal that he said “could turn on a dime” against a horse. Under the right circumstances, he continued, beefalo may sell for as much as $2,500.
“The meat, it’s chewy without being tough – it isn’t mushy like grain-fed beef. Anybody who has had elk or deer can tell the difference right away,” Davis said, describing his former herd. “My children, when they grew up, said this is sweet meat compared to grain fed.”
According to Davis, his children wouldn’t eat choice Angus meat, saying that, compared to beefalo meat, it “tastes bad.”
Standing beside him were sophomore Rusty LaFrance, who serves as the college Rangeland Club president, and Velma Pickett, the group’s advisor. Crow Agency’s Rangeland Club is organized in connection with the Society for Range Management, a group that has been operating since 1948, and now includes more than 4,000 members over 48 countries. 
This society, its website states, is interested in “studying, conserving, managing and sustaining the varied resources of the rangelands.”
“I don’t think the college has ever had anything like this before,” LaFrance said of Davis’ donation. “Being that we’re the only tribal Range Club in North America, it’s a pretty big step for us, and opens a lot of doors and opportunities for us to expand and get ourselves out there.”
LaFrance’s cousin Riley Singer founded the college’s Rangeland Club in 2014, Pickett said, to boost the tribe’s interest in agriculture. Of Montana’s seven reservations, the Crow Reservation is the largest with 2.2 million acres – it also provides the most open space for farming and ranching.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry here,” Pickett said. “We have all the land, and it would be good to see our tribal members take advantage of all of these leases here and get into this business.”
Davis and his wife, Florance, donated the cow-bison hybrids and llama to the Rangeland Club after they found that their own Dayton property didn’t have the acreage necessary to support the livestock.
He chose to contact College President Dr. David Yarlott and later Pickett with the offer to donate, he said, because of the area’s Crow Reservation location and American Indians’ extensive history co-existing with bison.
“They have the bison heritage,” he said. “These animals have people who will feel and understand them.”
“Historically, what we survived on was the buffalo,” Pickett said. “As we all know, as the years went on, buffalo numbers declined, just like our numbers declined…our food choice had to change. Nowadays, a lot of our people like to eat beef.”
Through the donation and some ranch work, Pickett continued, Crow members can get the chance to continue into modern times (“we like iPhones”) while expanding the beefalo population and maintaining the classic food staple.
Davis – a former physician, and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy – helped his family’s own beefalo operation from 1980-96. As described by Davis, it was a small, “grass-finished” enterprise. 
The first operation was eventually sold, but he began redeveloping a beefalo herd starting November 2014 in Texas – the location was chosen due to family history in the state. When he developed lung problems in Texas, Florance and he packed up their small cadre of animals and headed to Dayton – he had lived in Wyoming twice previous – in November 2016. 
Of the beefalo provided to the college by Davis, one is a descendant of Bold Venture, a half-bison bull. His own quarter-bison beefalo, he said, “carries a male line that’s potentially just getting started.”
“When you get these animals butchered and you put them on the hook,” Davis said, “they hardly have back fat, but their kidney fat is just rich white.”
“Don’t talk to Crows about kidneys,” LaFrance told him, laughing.
According to LaFrance, he’s looking forward to applying what he learned during Rangeland Club and school ag courses into real life.
“I’m looking at it as a learning experience for myself and the other club members,” he said. “This gives us leverage to pick ourselves up and take this somewhere.”
Eventually, LaFrance also looks forward to trying the kidneys.