Bison Producer Ivan Smith
Ivan Smith grew up around cattle, but when he decided to get into ranching himself, bison were his calling. “I never did much research but I really liked the bison story and their history. Then I saw that first bison come off the truck and thought, “Wow, what have I got myself into!”
Ivan has been operating Big Bend Bison Ranches in Red Deer Alberta since 1998 and has seen a lot of changes in those 23 years. Noble got Ivan on the phone to talk about the bison industry, consumer markets and what the future could look like.
What’s the perception of bison meat out there, compared to when you first started selling your products?
People used to come to the farmers markets and give my bison table a wide berth; they didn’t really understand it. But small industry farms, and bison advocates like Doug and Kelly from Noble are changing that. Now customers come from as far as Yellowknife specifically for bison meat, preferring bison to other protein, and wanting more and more product.
What positive changes have you seen in the industry these last few years?
The bison industry has many cycles – we’re in one now. There have been lots of changes but I would say the right animals are now going to consumers. The availability of animals, the quality, variety and consistency of cuts has allowed us, and others, to grow in the meat market.
How long have you been working with Noble and what do you value about the relationship?
The bison industry is very small but we’re really like a big family. This is my second season with Noble, a relationship that started with a handshake. Doug and Kelly are known in the industry to be straight shooters and I value that, plus the integrity they bring to their business. They’ve been in this industry a long time, know how to weather the ups and downs, and I admire their focus on making this industry sustainable.Ivan Smith, Big Bend Bison Ranches
What are you hoping for, with regards to the future of the bison industry in Canada?
More federal support for slaughter capacity, for one thing; the backlog is a real problem. The industry is still pretty volatile so more stabilization, like the beef industry is doing, would be welcome. I’d like to see the borders open up for our cuts to go south, and have more access to global markets.
When you’re not out on the ranch, what do you like to do?
Raising bison gives me freedom to spend quality time with my family, play competitive soccer with a bunch of guys half my age, and use my experience and skills to help other producers where I can. Folks call me the bison whisperer because I like to go anywhere the bison are – you could say I’m more comfortable with bison than people.
Across Canada, we’re raising bison alongside producers who are invested in so much more than their land and animals. Folks like Nolan, Ivan, and Robert believe that with integrity and transparency, we can build a great industry in Canada. One that benefits producers, marketers and the communities we live in. Visit our ranch, try our premium products, and let us know how we’re doing at
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