Buffalo ranch a mainstay in Olathe’s agricultural heritage

A sign directs motorists off U.S. Highway 50 south of Olathe to the DeVries Buffalo Ranch where a large selection of produce and buffalo meat can be purchased daily.

A herd of Buffalo graze in a field at the DeVries Buffalo Ranch south of Olathe. The animals are mainly raised on an alfalfa diet and are grown for their tender meat and hides.

OLATHE — On a hot July day, Olathe rancher Rich Friend climbs into his all-terrain vehicle to go check on his herd. Along the way he sees a vehicle pull off the road and a camera stretch out for a picture. This isn’t unusual at the DeVries Buffalo Ranch, where the once iconic animal of the American West, hunted to near extinction, is now a common sight.

Friend, along with his wife, Pam DeVries Friend, manages about 50 head of buffalo on their family ranch south of Olathe, off U.S. Highway 50. Pam’s father, George DeVries, a cattle farmer, started raising buffalo nearly 40 years ago.

“I guess he wanted something different,” Rich Friend said of DeVries’ desire to raise bison, rather than cattle.

Over the decades, DeVries’ tender buffalo meat has grown to become a local delicacy, known for lean hamburger and choice steaks.

To keep up with demand, DeVries slaughters one buffalo a month. For more tender meat, Friend said they slaughter the animal at 26 months of age and can get about 500 pounds of meat, about the same as a regular beef cow.

In the 1980s, the price for a yearling buffalo calf was about $1,500, Friend said. Now the price has dropped to $800. The drop is because of the comeback the animal has made over the past decades. As the numbers rose, Friend lamented, the market became flooded.

“People wanted it because it was healthier, about 6 percent fat compared to the 30 percent from angus,” Friend said.

According to the USDA, there are now some 150,000 bison in public and private lands in the U.S.

Unlike the older, tougher animals the Americans Indians ate, today’s bison are custom-fed and slaughtered at a younger age,  so the meat is as tender as beef. Some 20,000 buffalo are slaughtered each year (compared to approximately 125,000 cattle a day).

While DeVries buffalo are USDA inspected, Friend said that, until a short time ago, the animals were still considered wild by federal inspectors.

As a younger man, Friend recalls separating cattle and remembering that it “wasn’t a big deal.” However, to separate buffalo, Friend said with a laugh, “it’s a rodeo.”

Friend said a big reason the ranch continues to raise buffalo instead of cattle is that the family’s relationship with the animal remains strong.

“It costs more to feed than what we get out of them. You’ve got to like the animal.”

Fed on a diet of grass and alfalfa, DeVries buffalo is priced at about $5.50 for a pound of hamburger and $15 for the best steaks.

Other cuts include stew meat, rib-eyes and roasts. The ranch also has buffalo jerky. In addition to buffalo, DeVries sells a large variety of produce from garden-grown beans to chili peppers, tomatoes, beets and more.

Friend’s biggest reward is the compliments he gets from the community — “DeVries quality,” as it’s called.

“You do it because you like it, you pay your bills and support a few families along the way,” he said.

Some local restaurants have recognized bison meat as a healthier option than regular beef.

Chris Martinez, executive chef of The Ale House in Grand Junction, carries the “Colorado Bison Burger” on his menu.

“I believe that (bison) is a much healthier alternative to beef. It’s hormone free, and the animal is raised free range.”

DeVries Buffalo Ranch is located at 8688 60.25 Road south of Olathe. A sign between mile markers 85 and 86 on U.S. Highway 50 marks the entrance. They can be reached at 970-323-6559.


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