Buffalo rancher plans herd expansion into cattle country
Frank King is on a mission to find the perfect meat. King, the owner of King Bio Natural Medicine, holistic pharmaceutical company based in Asheville, is testing and researching different types of animals that will prosper in the Western North Carolina climate while at the same time provide nourishing steaks and burgers.
He has tried everything from the Eland, the looming antelope-like animal from the plains of Africa, to the Himalayan Yak, of which he now has a group grazing in the field in front of his house in Haywood County. Some of his meat ventures he won’t even talk about.
But so far, his most successful is the American classic: American Bison.
King, through his company, Carolina Bison, has sold millions of dollars in bison meat to regional food distributors, Asheville-area restaurants and farmer’s markets as well as the Ingles grocery store chains and other food venues. Thanks to Carolina Bison, buffalo meat has become the latest darling of local food champions and health-conscious shoppers.
King has a bison ranch in Buncombe County. Although a large amount of the bison meat he sells is raised in other parts of the United States by King’s business partners, the ranch near Asheville provides enough space for between 300 and 500 head of bison. But, all that might change soon as he attempts to expand.
King said he is also in the process of acquiring 3,000 acres near Clyde, which he hopes to open for tours, to expand his local buffalo herd. Ultimately in the next few years, he’d like to have a total of 10,000 acres dedicated to buffalo grazing in the area.
But King’s introduction of bison into cattle-country in Haywood County — home to more than 6,000 head of beef cattle, as estimated by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and one of the largest cattle ranching counties in WNC — may prompt an American red meat showdown.
According to King, and as bolstered on his company’s marketing literature, the bison are “real American red meat.” His claim would be supported by a stalled federal bill, The National Bison Legacy Act, introduced to the Senate last May, that would have recognized the bison as the national mammal, a national status similar to that held by the Bald Eagle and the Oak tree.
The bison is also featured on two state flags and is the official mammal of three states, according to the drafters of the bill.
But, King didn’t stop at “American.” He pointed out that centuries ago bison were found naturally in WNC, unlike beef cattle.
“Beef cattle aren’t even indigenous to this continent,” King said. “They’re all imported. Even the Texas longhorn are two Spanish breeds of cattle brought here and cross bred. As far as getting indigenous, bison is it.”
King claimed bison are also more profitable because they can eat more native grasses than cows — requiring less grain and hay — and three bison can be raised in the space it takes to raise two beef cattle. Bison meat also fetches a higher price per pound at slaughter time.
He guessed the primary reason people still raise and eat beef, instead of bison, is because of a tradition that was brought by Europeans to the Americas long ago.
However, Tony McGaha, an agricultural extension agent of the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Office in Haywood County, said he doesn’t expect local ranchers to start selling off their cattle herds and jumping on the bison bandwagon just because King opens his ranch in the county.
“I think it’s very interesting and newsworthy,” McGaha said. “But, I don’t see a mass exodus of people changing to bison.”
He said the high infrastructure costs to enter the market — King jokingly described his reinforced steel corral and electrified fences as something akin to the movie “Jurassic Park” — and added safety concerns when working with such large and wild animals will keep many ranchers from changing over and the meat market for bison as still a niche one, McGaha said.
McGaha didn’t foresee any added disease pressure to local herds or problems with neighbors — as long as the bison stayed in the fence boundary. Overall the expansion of Bison into Haywood County is a positive development, he said.
“Anything as far as diversity is positive,” McGaha said.
King is also the owner of King Bio Natural Medicine, the holistic pharmaceutical company based in Asheville. King, with his history in holistic healing, sees his bison empire as a well-aligned philosophical extension of his natural medicine business. Carolina Bison brought in millions of dollars in sales from consumers interested in trying a novelty like bison meat and also those that choose it as a healthier alternative to beef. In addition to the natural health advantage of bison over other meat, King avoids the use of hormones, steroids, antibiotics or other artificial means of beefing up the herd.
The natural drug mogul is creating a medicinal link between the bison side of his business and the pharmaceutical. He is acquiring a patent to add bison adrenal extract to his line of already 500 natural medicines with hopes to treat people with conditions like adrenal fatigue and thyroid problems. It could create even more demand for bison products — a niche perhaps, but a burgeoning one.
Bison is better for health
Bison meat is touted as one of the healthiest red meats, or any type of meat for that matter, by health advocates and bison connoisseurs. The American Heart Association writes on their website, under a section dedicated to meat consumption, that lean cuts of buffalo (along with emu and ostrich) is very low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Even the Lance Armstrong-affiliated Livestrong Foundation’s website advertises the healthiness of bison meat.
Frank King, a holistic health practitioner and owner of King Bio Natural Medicine and Carolina Bison, which operates a bison ranch near Asheville, began recommending bison to his patients with high cholesterol and as an alternative to other red meats. Although lean ground beef products are comparable in fat content to bison, overall bison is leaner, with more protein and less fat.
The difference can be seen in the price. Carolina Bison’s ground bison meat, which can now be found at Ingle’s grocery stores, sells for nearly $2 more per pound than grass-fed, ground beef. There is also a difference in taste, but that, for many, is based in preference. Some say bison carries a gamey taste while others say it is more flavorful than beef products.