Eufaula buffalo ranch grows a health product

Monday, November 29th 2004, 5:56 am
By: News On 6

EUFAULA, Okla. (AP) _ Dennis Garrett's home on the range really does include buffalo.

From his ranch to your stove top range, his Belle Starr Buffalo Co. offers a healthy, unusual eating choice.

Garrett said there is such a demand for the lowfat meat that he has a hard time keeping the steaks and roasts in stock. But the buffalo hot links, hot dogs, jerky, summer sausage and snack sticks also can be purchased from his home on Texanna Road, 3/4 of a mile east of U.S. 69. Look for a buffalo sign.

The business started in 1999 with 20 head of buffalo. He started it just after he moved back to Oklahoma from Breckenridge, Colo.

While in Breckenridge, Garrett worked as the controller for a luxury hotel that kept buffalo on the menu. It was there that his familiarity with the food grew.

``It is described as having a flavor much like beef, only richer,'' he said. ``Buffalo meat has less than half the fat of skinless chicken, even though it is red meat. So it is a denser, richer red meat.

``The buffalo I raise are finished on corn and alfalfa for 90 days, which gives it a smooth beef-like flavor.''

Today Garrett has 70 buffaloes roaming his range.

He said the cost of keeping buffaloes is higher than cattle because of the special equipment needed.

His corrals have to be seven feet tall and made of sheet metal, he said.

``All of the fences have to be electric because buffaloes can be so hard on other types of fences. Plus, you can't just take a buffalo down to the market and sell it anytime you need some quick cash. There has to be planning involved.''

Processing has been Garrett's biggest hurdle. He has to transport the buffalo to Carthage, Mo., or Kiowa, Kan., for processing because there isn't a processor in Oklahoma that does buffalo.

Even though the demand for the buffalo steaks and other select cuts are more than he can produce, Garrett still has plans on business expansions. He hopes processing will be one key to expansion.

Another area he hopes to expand into is argi-tourism.

``My goal isn't to market meat all over the state, but to market meat locally right here,'' he said.

He would like to add a gift shop, where buffalo rugs, skulls and other sought-after items could be sold.

The demand for buffalo continues to increase because more and more people are discovering its benefits as a food product. Plus, some American Indians are going back to a more indigenous diet.

Doug Walton of Muskogee and his family eat Garrett's buffalo meat regularly. They use the ground meat in spaghetti sauce and chili.

``We really like it,'' Walton said. ``We have gotten quite hooked on it.''

The buffaloes are raised in an environmentally friendly setting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't allow any steroids, antibiotics or growth hormones to be used in buffalo.

``It feels quite native to eat it,'' Walton said. ``It is like we are eating something that belongs here. There is a certain sense of place to it.''