The commute up Bob and Bev Sexten’s long and winding driveway is nothing short of picturesque, with rolling hills, open land and woods that are placed just so. It’s about halfway from the county road to the house, where a herd of majestic-looking bison lay in the snow, that one might confuse themselves with being in a completely different part of the county and begin humming “Home on the Range.”
In reality, located in Grove City, Ohio Bison Farm is a far cry from the west but the bison seem to get along just fine in Ohio’s climate.
“Ranchers out west have found that when a severe storm comes through, like the blizzard back in October, they will lose a lot of cattle,” Sexten said. “They don’t lose any bison.”
“We have a barn for them here on the property but they never go in. Even in the summertime with all of that fur and hair on they lay right out in the sun in the middle of the field and in the winter they are just as content in the snow. When there is a hard wind, they don’t turn their back to it, they look right straight at it, so they are a hearty animal.”
It seems that there are just as many differences as there are similarities between bison and cattle, but one of the biggest differences may be when it comes to handling the animal.
“They are fine in the field,” Sexten said. “We have 9-strand high-tinsel wire that I turn on in the spring for a few weeks to let them know it’s there, but rarely use it after that. The challenges come when it is time to work them and get them ready for the show and sale. If you have them in the chute for too long they can shut their nervous system completely down and then moving them is very difficult.”
As with most successful business stories, The Sextens began raising bison as a hobby after buying six heifers in Kansas in 1990. It took some years of learning more about the animal and how to get the best quality product from them, but now their products can be found in Central Ohio grocery stores and restaurants. Ohio Bison Farm also takes part in 5 farmers markets in the summer and 1 in the winter, allowing them to talk one on one with consumers.
“The question we get more than any other is are they grass fed or is this organic,” Sexten said. “In this area of the country there isn’t enough room to grass feed, but that is the preference these days. We feed strictly hay and non-GMO corn and we do give our bison a supplement of selenium and copper sulfate.”
Bob and Bev process their bulls at 1,000 pounds and the heifers at 950 pounds. They have discovered that if bison get much heavier than that, the quality begins to diminish.
“We are doing about all we can do at my age,” Sexten jokes. “If I was younger I might get more involved in it, I could be dangerous.”
Sexten does remain heavily involved in the industry, as he served as President of the Eastern Bison Association and is now Chairman of the Board. Bob and Bev are also members of the National Bison Association (NBA) located in Denver, an organization that Bob believes is a major part of their success.
“They have just done an outstanding job over the past several years of marketing the meat,” Sexten said. “Our industry was kind of like the ostrich business for a while because the market rose and the animals got really high and then the bottom dropped out. NBA has helped to level that activity off and things are much more stable now.”
Sexten admits that he and Bev got into the bison industry at just the right time as not only did major promotion of bison kick in at about the same time of starting their operation, but the largest private landowner in the U.S., Ted Turner, put the product on the map as well.
“He has been an integral part of introducing bison to many Americans through his restaurant chain,” Sexten said. “In fact, he still has the largest herd in the U.S. with 50,000 head.”
One of the biggest sales pitches that Ohio Bison Farm can make, and one that Bob and Bev are very proud of, is the health aspect when it comes to bison meat.
“Our ground meat is close to 95% lean,” Sexten said. “It is also high in protein, low in cholesterol and low in fat and that makes for a very healthy combination that tastes great too.”
Ohio Bison Farms products are processed in Orrville, where the meat is de-boned, vacuum-sealed and ready for market. The price of bison is very competitive with the beef market these days, with ground selling for $7.95 a pound. The Sextens also offer numerous cuts of steak, roasts, sausage, jerky and more.
The Sextens agree that raising bison is a great way to make a living.
“The biggest reward is just watching them,” Sexten said. “Over time you get to know them and every one of them has a different personality. I enjoy doing it or I wouldn’t be doing it. They are an awesome animal.”