Day 15 of my “30 Days of MN Agriculture” is Craig Fischer of Sleepy Bison. The Fischers are from Sleepy Eye in south central Minnesota. They have been raising bison for a little over three years. Make sure you read to the end because there is a recipe!
Social Media Sites:
Facebook: Fischer’s Sleepy Bison Acres
Tell me a little about your farm and/or business?
We operate a small, diversified, pasture based farm. The pulse of the farm revolves around our bison herd, while our poultry, pigs, cats, and dog round out the farm. We believe in natural regenerative production of food, centered on the production of quality grasses and forage, just like our grandparents.
How long have you farmed or been in business?
I have been actively farming on the family farm as long as I can remember. We focused more on row crop production when I grew up, only having feeder cattle for a couple seasons. My family has a rich history in the dairy sector, though, with many former dairy princesses, the first 3E rated dairy cow in MN (rated excellent 3 years in a row), and the first 50 cow dairy herd in the county; the farm place we live on has raised just about everything over the years, except bison.
My wife Elizabeth and I jumped into the bison industry a little over 3 years ago. We got married and started fencing together. We have not looked back since. While the bison were jumping stone number one, we started raising chickens two years ago and made our first splash into the turkey and hog business in 2016.
Tell me a little about what you grown/raise/produce or service provided.
We pasture bison, pigs, turkeys, meat chicken, and run free range egg laying chickens on a 4th generation farm site located in southcentral MN. We sell all of our meat and produce directly to consumers. We raise our bison from gate to plate, meaning we have the cows that produce the calves that become the meat animals. These animals go right from our pasture to your plate.
When the weather begins warming in the spring, we experience a flush of youth on the farm. To complement our large grazers, we hatch our own laying hens to roam the pasture and produce tasty free range eggs. We buy chicks to produce pastured meat poultry throughout the summertime. While we may get 2 or more batches of meat chickens produced in the summer, the pastured turkeys grow much slower before producing the perfect Thanksgiving centerpiece. Locally sourced heritage breed feeder pigs arrive in the springtime and we raise them in their wooded pastures to market weight for fall harvest. All of our animals follow an intensive rotational grazing system to simulate natural disturbance cycles.
Where do you sell or provide services to? Who is your end consumer?
We sell direct to customers. Our end consumers may be someone we know, someone who found us online, or from within our very own family. This ensures everything we produce is raised with the utmost care, and to the highest standard. The same food that goes into our own freezer and fuels our family is offered to our customers.
What makes your farm/business unique or special? What are you proud of?
The diversification of animals is something we are proud of, and allows us to have a more balanced disturbance on the land that regenerates the growth cycle. Our commitment to a regenerative, natural approach led us to the Water Quality Certification program. We became the first Water Quality Certified farm in the county earlier this summer (also one of the first in the area). We are very proud of raising our family with the experience and knowledge that comes from the failures and successes of raising all of the animals we do on the farm. We are simply proud to have the opportunity to live on a family farm that raises bison, and we are proud of what the animal represents, as well as what it can do for nature, if given the proper chance.
We are proud of the fact that we are not only the largest bison producer in Brown County, but also one of the largest in the southcentral MN area. Being in the midst of my second term as Region C director of the Minnesota Buffalo Association, it is a privilege to have an active presence within such a knowledgeable and positive organization.
Why do you grow/raise/produce? What went into your decision to do what you do?
We decided to raise bison because of its combination of aesthetic appeal, healthy meat, and low maintenance needs. First off, bison always peaked our interest in our school lessons. There was just something about them. The way they look, the way they act and demand respect, the freedom they represent, their fearlessness, agility, size, ability to fend for themselves, uncanny conservation ability, and the many uses for their byproducts, all pointed to the fact that bison are very special. The buffalo represents something special, something “out of the norm” for our neck of the woods, and I think the idea of forging our own path with something “new” appealed to us.
The second factor in our decision was the fact that we can’t choose our genetics. We figured there was no better way to counter future health concerns than with America’s original red meat, a heart healthy meat endorsed by the American Heart Association.
Finally, our bison are extremely resilient and a low maintenance animal. The notion that we were not restricted or bound to the farm to take care of them during a storm was a definite plus. It is a concern to be properly fenced, especially with a smaller area, but as long as the herd is happy, there is little reason to fret. We can literally put out enough hay for a week, and as long as their water is ok, we could go away for a nice break.
What is one interesting fact about your farm/crops/livestock/business you would like to share.
Oh my gosh, this is so hard to answer. They are such an interesting animal, where do I start? Bison are native to North America, and are America’s original red meat. For thousands of years, bison were the kingpin in a stable diet and a stable ecosystem. Low in fat, high in protein, and naturally low in cholesterol (just to name a few of the many benefits)…simply put it is an extremely nutrient dense meat that tastes really good (no gamey taste).
Every farm around here is still benefitting from the vast fertility established by the grazing herds of old. From an ecosystem perspective, bison are a keystone species. The definition of a keystone species is “a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change dramatically.” That description could not fit any other animal as well as it fits the bison in North America.
What is a most embarrassing moment you have had on the farm?
The most embarrassing moment on the farm occurred when we had just finished cross fencing and turned the herd out onto a lush paddock, only to forget to close a gate. The following morning at 5:45 AM, the herd checked on me at morning chore time, just as they always did, only to find there was a new territory to explore. After discovering this, I woke up my wife and we caught up with the herd a couple miles down the road. It took them about 15 minutes to catch their breath and their bearings. Over the next 40 minutes, I proceeded to lead them back home with a couple of pails of treats. I had to call in the local law enforcement (who I am friends with) because of morning traffic commuting concerns on our county road. Even though the event was pretty well “uneventful,” I was constantly reminded of the event for quite some time.
What do you love most about farming/business?
I love being with the animals and getting to know each of them. I love seeing the animals flourish day to day – growing, playing, and interacting within their environment. The bison are agile, majestic, and inspiring and all have unique personalities. When they are happy and healthy, you are happy, and your family is secure. That is a good feeling for me.
What is one thing no one knows about your farm/business/product that you would like to share?
With the taste and the incredible story of the bison species, we open our farm to tours. People love getting a chance to interact with the herd, and it is always a joy when kids and adults alike feed the animals (especially the bison). We have found there is a lot of value in interacting with your food, understanding the value of that food, what it takes to produce it, as well as what kind of sacrifice is required to balance a healthy food system. We believe in integrity food, so anyone can come to the farm (preferably by appointment) and ask any question and see anything that they want in relation to our animals, and how and why we raise them the way we do. That is our commitment to our customer base.
More recipes can be found at
Minnesota Buffalo Association at http://mnbison.org/recipes/ for a great list of recipes, while the National Bison Association lists recipes at http://www.bisoncentral.com/cooking-bison/bison-recipes .