Ranching in Big Sky Country with North Bridger Bison

Tucked up against the North Bridger Mountains outside Bozeman, Montana, North Bridger Bison is a family-run ranch founded by Matt and Sarah Skoglund. Here, the bison are an integral part of the history and the beauty of the land. Although the Skoglunds are new to farming, their healthy, delicious, environmentally friendly, and humanely raised bison meat has already made a big impression with customers.


How did you get into ranching?

My path into ranching was both non-traditional and non-linear. After a short stint as an attorney in Chicago, I spent a decade doing environmental policy work for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) here in Montana. As much I believe in the importance of that work, over time I was craving to do something entrepreneurial and on my own that was tangible, conservation-based, and land-based.

At NRDC, a big part of my work involved bison, so the species had been in my life for a long time, and I am just endlessly fascinated by bison. I’m also very passionate about food — I love to garden, hunt, and forage for mushrooms. And when you think about food and agriculture, it’s almost stunning how big of an impact they have on human health and the planet’s health.

We have billions of people on earth. And, if we’re lucky, we get to eat three meals a day. So you think about the impact of billions of meals every day, and you’re talking about a pretty important industry. Simply put, how we eat matters.

And then the more I learned about regenerative agriculture, the importance of grazing animals on the landscape, the destructive farming practices behind so many plant-based foods, and the incredible opportunity to try and help improve (in our own tiny, tiny way) the food system, human health, and the health of the planet, my wife and I got pretty excited about it, put a ton of work and research into it, and ultimately started North Bridger Bison from scratch in 2018.

 

What drew you to bison rather than, say, cattle or sheep?

A big part of it, as I mentioned, was that I had worked on issues involving bison for many years, and I had developed a deep reverence for the animal. And then, from a ranching and management perspective, bison are native to North America and just really tough and hardy. They breed on their own, calve on their own, defend themselves against wolves and other carnivores, do just fine in extreme cold, and on and on and on. They are, quite literally, built for our landscape in Montana. So bison just made a lot of sense for us for a lot of reasons.

 

You’re relatively new to ranching — what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve gotten the ranch up and running?

There have been several. We knew going into this it would not be easy, and we’ve embraced the challenges. The first challenge was finding land and financing. That’s such a huge deal for new farmers and ranchers. Another has been building our market and customer base. From day one, we have sold everything direct to consumers in quarters, halves, and whole animals — all custom-exempt (i.e., pre-selling a live animal to four customers, then field-harvesting it on our ranch, and then getting those four customers their bison meat).

One reason we’re so excited about There’s a Cow in My Freezer is that we think a lot of people don’t realize that buying a chest freezer and then buying excellent meat direct from a rancher in bulk makes so, so, so much sense. It sounds like a lot of meat up front, but when you break down the costs, the efficiency, the time-saving, how long that meat lasts, and how delicious, environmentally friendly, and healthy it is — it just makes a ton of sense! Many of our customers have not bought meat in bulk before, but once they get a chest freezer and receive a quarter from us, they are thrilled! We have several regular customers now, and we are really grateful for that.

Chris Douglas / Boot Barn

Additionally, besides the consumer-education side of it, you don’t just create a website and open an Instagram account and then have people calling nonstop to order meat from you. It takes work. As it should. You need to earn your customers’ trust. We are really grateful for our customers, and we work closely with each and every one of them to provide them with an excellent experience from the moment they order a quarter from us all the way through their enjoyment of it at home (e.g., we love swapping recipes with our customers and receiving texts from them with photos of our bison being cooked and enjoyed by them). It took a little while for us to get the word out, but now that we’ve been in business for a couple of years and a lot of our bison is being enjoyed all over the country, we’re seeing more and more interest from more and more customers.

As you know, there’s nothing more powerful than word-of-mouth recommendations from friends to friends or family members to family members, and we’ve been blown away by how our customers recommend us to their friends and family. We believe strongly in what we do, and we really try to provide amazing meat and an amazing experience to our customers, so it just fills us up when we hear great feedback from our customers.

 

And what have been the biggest rewards?

There are so many. First, as noted above, we absolutely love getting to know our customers and hearing from them how much they are enjoying their bison meat. That’s at the core of what we do.

Second, we just feel really good about our whole process — from the way we manage our bison to how we field-harvest them with respect and gratitude on our ranch. Because of that, I just love spending time with the herd. It’s very grounding, and watching the bison graze and interact just never gets old.

Lastly, we have two young kids — a 3-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son — and sharing this whole experience with them has been incredible. To see them absorb all of this — and to know they really know and get where their food comes from — it’s just been really special for Sarah and me as parents.

 

Your approach to land stewardship is based on five pillars (sunshine, water, soil, grass, and bison). Can you explain how these are connected and why they’re so important?

When I explain it to people, I describe it as a “magical” process — and I’m being dead serious. We have bison, which are native to our landscape, have lived here for millennia, and have evolved to thrive in this environment. They have a “magical” stomach that allows them to eat grass — and completely flourish on it. And grass grows in healthy soil, with the help of sunshine and rain.

So, at the end of the day, there’s this incredibly simple and incredibly beautiful system that nature has created here, and our job is to work with that system. When people think of food and agriculture, they probably think of tractors and seeds and sprays and fertilizers and row crops and giant harvesting machines and on and on and on and think it’s really complicated. But when it comes to bison and our approach to ranching, it’s amazingly and beautifully simple. And the end product — our field-harvested bison meat — is wildly healthy and insanely delicious.

It’s magical!!!

 

You field harvest your bison rather than taking them to an off-farm facility. Why did you choose to go this route?

We ultimately do this for two reasons: (1) the bison and (2) the meat. I field-harvest each animal on the ranch myself. This entails driving into the pasture where the bison are grazing that day and killing a bison with a single rifle shot to the head. This means zero stress for the bison, and while it might sound intense, it’s ultimately as humane and ethical as it gets.

And it means there’s no stress in the meat, which leads to amazingly delicious meat. We have a little saying here — “eat with your eyes wide open” — and field-harvesting our bison on our ranch makes us very aware of what’s involved with producing food. It’s a lot more work, but we could not feel better about it. Eating has an impact, so let’s try to be as thoughtful and respectful about it as possible.

 

How does bison compare to beef in terms of flavor and nutrition?

Taste is, of course, subjective from person to person, but what you often hear or read about bison compared to beef is that bison has a lighter and sweeter taste to it. And from a nutritional standpoint, grass-fed, grass-finished bison meat is an excellent source of lean protein, full of nutrients, and has a lot of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for your heart and your brain. Folks can Google it, but if you’re looking to eat healthier and improve your well-being, it’s abundantly clear that adding grass-fed, grass-finished bison meat to your weekly (or daily) diet is excellent for you.

 

What’s the biggest point of confusion or concern that most people have when it comes to buying a quarter, half, or whole bison?

When it comes to buying meat in bulk (e.g., a quarter, half, or whole bison), the three main misconceptions I see are (1) it’s way too much meat, (2) it’s going to take up way too much space, and (3) buying a freezer is a huge purchase.

As for the meat, a quarter bison averages around 85 pounds of meat, and it will easily last in your freezer in excellent condition for multiple years. For two people, you’re talking about less than a pound of meat per week for each of them in a single year. For a family with kids, it’s even less meat per week. So when you think about your eating over the course of a year, you’re really not talking about a lot of meat.

And for space, a quarter bison will take up less than 3 cubic feet of freezer space. Our quarters will fit in two “banana boxes” from a grocery store. It’s always less space than people think.

And then for freezers, right now you can buy a 3.5 cubic foot freezer for under $150 — or a 7 cubic foot freezer for under $200. And I guarantee you — with absolute certainty — that your freezer purchase will ultimately save you money and allow you to eat healthier. It’s simple: you can buy higher-quality food (that is healthier and more delicious) in bulk, and that’s less expensive than buying it weekly at the grocery store. And then there’s the convenience factor. It’s dinner time, the fridge is looking empty, but you can grab some frozen ground bison out of the freezer and be eating bison spaghetti sauce or bison tacos in no time at all. That saves you a hurried trip to the grocery store or expensive takeout. I always tell folks: even if you don’t want to buy a bison quarter from us, do yourself a favor and buy an inexpensive chest freezer — you will never regret it.

 

You have two young children — how do you hope “farm life” shapes their development and view of the world?

Chris Douglas / Boot Barn

It’s important to us that our two kids — Otto (7) and Greta (3) — spend as much time outside as possible. That’s an important value of ours. We also want them to value hard and meaningful work and develop a deep sense of gratitude for all aspects of life, from the food on our table to our relationships with our neighbors. And we want them to be strongly connected to the natural world and where their food comes from.

We’ve made the conscious choice of not sheltering them from any parts of ranch life. For example, I tell them when I’m going to field-harvest a bison, and we (obviously) eat a ton of bison and talk a lot about bison. This, of course, sometimes raises some interesting questions from them, and we really enjoy talking to our kids about food, eating, nature, and life.

There are many great life lessons to be learned on a ranch.

 

What’s on the horizon for North Bridger Bison in 2021?

We will continue to focus on producing some of the healthiest and most delicious bison meat you can find anywhere. That’s the core foundation of what we do. And we also hope to be able to offer some other bison products by the end of the year — specifically bison bone broth, bison jerky, and bison sausages.


Want a quarter bison for your own freezer but don’t live in the Bozeman area? No problem — North Bridger Bison ships its meat across the United States. Deposits can be made online. Be sure to check out their Instagram page for updates and breathtaking photos from the ranch.

1 thought on “Ranching in Big Sky Country with North Bridger Bison”

  1. Robert E Goldman

    We live on the East Coast and have had bison shipped to us by Matt. I highly recommend it to all. Excellent quality, very tasty, and it is great to support people like Matt and his family who are thoughtful stewards of the land they live on. My wife and I have raised black angus in Pennsylvania and the bison / angus split in our freezer provides distinctive flavors to our meals.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *