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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The deep snow blanketing the Midwest prairie didn't bother the bison on Ed Eichten's ranch one bit. The hardy animals evolved to survive — even thrive — year-round on the open range, and with their big heads, they can plow right through drifts 5-feet tall or more.
The majestic beasts are a hot commodity these days, as consumer demand for healthy meat has sent prices soaring. But although bison are what one rancher calls "a self-care animal," most farmers are struggling to increase their herds and keep up with demand.
Bison grow slower than other livestock, and a heifer can't have her first calf until she's 3, said Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association in Westminster, Colo. Beef cows can have calves at 2. Also, many producers are finding heifers more valuable for breeding than eating, which means fewer bison going to market — at least temporarily, he said.
The tight supply comes after bison farmers spent much of the past decade aggressively courting consumers by touting the health benefits of the low-fat, low-cholesterol meat. Bison caught on, and even in the economic slump, prices haven't discouraged consumers.
"Now our challenge is keeping up with that demand," Carter said.
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