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The buffalo roam in Loomis

Allende family raises bison on their 10-acre ranch
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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What weighs more than a ton, runs up to 35 mph, and is aggressive and unpredictable? Keith Allende, of Loomis, knows the answer. It’s an American bison, the majestic symbol of the American West. Allende owns nine of the animals and knows how important it is to handle them with care — and from a distance. “They’re wild animals and don’t make good pets. You shouldn’t get excited around them. You can’t just herd them like you would cattle,” Allende said. “If their tails are up and their eyes are showing white, that’s a sign you’re in trouble,” he said. The sturdy fence around his 7-acre pasture displays warning signs for visitors to keep their distance and not enter. He said the animals have been known to charge the fence and could actually jump or climb it. Allende said the bison in his herd once numbered 19, and are all related. For the most part, he said, they are content to stay in the pasture. They did escape one Easter Sunday when the family was out of town. He said the herd traveled five miles to Newcastle. Friends were able to capture and return all but one. He said a sheriff’s officer was forced to shoot an aggressive bull out of fear it would attack someone. Allende bought his 10-acre property on Whiskey Bar Road 27 years ago and received a 6-day-old bison calf as a gift from a friend. He bottle-fed the Bessie and kept her as a pet with two steers that were being raised for meat. “Bessie was very fun. She thought she was a steer,” he said. A few years later, the same friend presented Allende with a bison bull. Eventually, the two became a herd. Unfortunately, Bessie died at age 15 during a breach birth. “It happened during the middle of the night and we didn’t know she was going to calf then. I could have helped her had I known,” Allende said. “We were all really upset when she died. Before we got the bull, Keith used to go out in the pasture and brush her and play with her,” said Allende’s wife, Rhonda Collier Allende. Now, the bison are raised for their meat, which is considered a healthy alternative to beef because it is much lower in fat. Plus, Allende said, “They’re smarter than cattle and don’t eat as much.” Allende estimates he spends $320 per month on alfalfa for the herd. The herd has four bulls, and when the younger bulls are 3-years-old he will have to sell or slaughter them to avoid dangerous fights. Raising bison is not a moneymaker. Allende said he sells the bison for $800 each. He said commercial bison ranching is feasible where there is a lot of open range and supplemental feeding is not necessary. While the herd doesn’t earn its keep, the family has other, intangible reasons to raise them. Rhonda Collier Allende said in spring the animals like to run around for 15 minutes or more at a time. She said it is very exciting to watch and “you can almost feel the ground shake.” She said if threatened, the adults circle around the calves, and face outward. “They are very protective of their calves. It’s a beautiful thing to see,” she said. Their daughter Sadie, 14, a Maidu High School freshman, said her friends were always impressed when they first saw the buffalo. “They’re different and unique,” Sadie said. Allende said after Sadie graduates, he’d like to buy a motor home and travel. He said he’ll be ready to get rid of the buffalo by then. ---------------------------- American Bison, fast facts What: Member of the bovine family, erroneously called buffalo Two types: Smaller Plains bison and larger, heavier and darker in color woods bison Size: North America’s largest land mammal, up to 7-feet tall and 11-feet long, weighing up to 2,500 pounds Population: Herds once numbered in the millions across the Great Plains, now more than 200,000 on reserves, parks and ranches Diet: Herbivore eats prairie grasses and grass-like plants Lifespan: 15 to 35 years on average Characteristics: Have poor eyesight, acute hearing and excellent sense of smell; can reach speeds of up to 35 mph Source: nationalzoo.si.edu, defenders.org