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Where the buffalo roam

Raising herd a group effort on Eidsvold Township farm

Photo by Jim Muchlinski The buffalo herd approach the feed bin at Jerry Differding’s farm site near Minneota. A herd of 10 buffalo are owned by Tanner Differding, Austin Thompson and Ashley and Jordan Dahl.

MINNEOTA — When Tanner Differding and Austin Thompson decided to work together in a livestock business, they turned to the largest historic icon of the North American plains.

They’ve started a herd of buffalo at the farm site of Tanner’s father, Jerry Differding, in Eidsvold Township near Minneota. The herd has 10 members — three males and seven females. It includes two young calves as well as an older calf that’s grown to nearly adult proportions.

The herd began with five buffalo purchased from an owner in the St. Cloud area. They arrived at the farm last spring, More members were added when Tanner’s sister and brother-in-law, Ashley and Jordan Dahl, joined the venture.

“We talked about things we might want to do as a business, and we decided to raise buffalo,” Thompson said. “It happened with help from our families. Tanner’s dad had the land and mine could help us build the right kind of facility.”

Their buffalo pen is situated in the farm yard and surrounded on the northwest side by trees. It features a sturdy reinforced fence that the adult buffalo won’t try to break.

Calves weigh about 50 pounds at birth. The full weight, which they reach when they’re about five years old, is about 1,900 pounds for males and 1,200 pounds for females.

The main expense to care for the herd is hay, their primary source of food. They’re occasionally fed corn as a treat. They go through about one full bale of hay in a week.

Differding said they’re also given recommended feed supplements to provide the best possible nutrition. The older calf, who has the name Sully, is the biggest eater.

“One of the advantages of having buffalo is that they’re low maintenance,” he said. “They pretty much take care of themselves. The mothers are very protective of their calves.”

The herd members usually come to the feed bin when people approach their pen. They have a mostly gentle disposition, occasionally sticking their heads through the fence but never attempting to break loose.

The herd is the only one of its kind in at least a 20 mile radius of Minneota. Differding and Thompson said the number of buffalo producers in the Upper Midwest has dropped in the past several years, but that there’s potential for markets to expand.

Plans for the future include having a pasture on the opposite side on the trees, one that’s connected to the pen by a fenced walkway. Four additional calves are expected within the next year.

“Eventually we’d like to market buffalo,” Differding said. “The idea is to turn it into a business. For now we share the expenses, but eventually we’d like to see it become profitable.”

Differding also has his own hog operation and works as an agronomist for Hefty Seed Company in Marshall. He earned a four-year degree in agronomy from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2021.

Both he and Thompson graduated from Minneota High School in 2017. Thompson is a deputy sheriff for Lyon County and completed his law enforcement training at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.

They said they’ve learned many things about buffalo management in the past few months. They plan to be active in state and national producer’s associations.

“There’s a lot of good information available,” Thompson said. “The biggest challenge for us so far has been the higher price for hay during this year’s dry weather, but we’re satisfied with how it’s turning out. We’re learning how to raise them and we’re enjoying it.”

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