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Biggest buffalo sales of the year being staged Saturday

CANNONBALL RANCH, N.D. -- Among the biggest buffalo sales of the year anywhere in the country will be staged Saturday in sweeping butte country at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers 35 miles south of Mandan. Bev and Ernie Fische...

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Buffalo from the historic Cannonball Ranch, south of Mandan, will be sold at auction Saturday. The open sale is intended for all buyers, large and small, and for the public to enjoy the sights and sounds of 800 buffalo moving through the sales pens. Mike McCleary/Bismarck Tribune

 

CANNONBALL RANCH, N.D.  - Among the biggest buffalo sales of the year anywhere in the country will be staged Saturday in sweeping butte country at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers 35 miles south of Mandan.

Bev and Ernie Fischer will sell 800 of the woolly animals right off the historic ranch property, and they’re hoping the public will come down on a sunny December day to experience the sights and sounds of the auction, along, of course, with plenty of motivated buyers.

It starts at 11 a.m. just off of Highway 1806. Signs will mark the entrance.

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Not only will it be among the biggest sales in terms of numbers, it could be the biggest in terms of animal value in a long time. Kevin Leier, a director for the North Dakota Buffalo Association, said the market is red hot right now.

“There’s an unbelievable demand for bison,” he said.

Since demand has overtaken supply, producers are in the driver’s seat, with a real premium for heifer calves and yearlings selling for more than $3 a pound.

“It’s one of those things that creeps up on people. These are the highest prices in the last 10 years,” said Leier, adding that the association is glad to see the Fischer’s production sale, even though the association will hold its annual auction Jan. 9 in Napoleon.

“When people are doing things that are good with a private production sale, it’s beneficial for all bison producers. I say, `Go for it. More power to them,’" Leier said.

The association will sell around 200 to 300 bison at its auction, an event intended mainly for smaller producers or people looking to get into the business.

The Fischers, on the other hand, are selling big with the intent of getting much smaller. They’ve had calls from buyers who’ve asked them to cancel the sale and sell them the whole works. But they’re committed to the idea of offering them to anyone and everyone.

“We want them to go to auction, so everyone has an option,” Bev Fischer said.

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Ernie Fischer loves to talk about the animals, but he pointedly insists that the whole enterprise is his wife’s baby.

It is she, after years of working the National Western Stock Show in Denver, who came up with a budget and a plan and started slowly buying small bunches from here and there, at auctions or from producers who heard they were looking and offered animals for sale.

“It takes a lot of money, and it takes a lot of support,” said Bev Fischer, explaining they are planning to use sale proceeds to get right with those who have invested in their dream and to move forward with 200 choice breeding animals.

They’re leasing the Cannonball Ranch pastures from owner David Meyer. They’re interested in good genetics: those bison that are most purely bison rather than cattle-cross and in eventually offering a good table product of animals that are naturally hormone- and antibiotic-free.

The couple says they love being around the animals, but they never take a bison's apparent docility for granted.

“I can walk around any of these animals, but I never turn my back,” said Bev Fischer, explaining the key is to maintain a calm atmosphere when the animals need to be handled.

“We don’t get them riled up. They’ve taught us both patience," she said.

Ernie Fischer agrees.

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“There’s a lot of testosterone out there, and it doesn’t take much to turn ‘em into dinosaurs. They’re not a lot of work. We leave ‘em alone, but we keep an eye on them," he said.

Despite their love of the animals and the time they spend outdoors in mud boots and overalls working the equipment and the fences, it’s all about the enterprise.

“This is an opportunity to take advantage of the industry right now. The prices are coming up and the demand is coming up. We hope that we can maintain a herd to provide fresh buffalo into the market,” Bev Fischer said.

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Bev and Ernie Fischer will sell 800 buffalo from the Cannonball Ranch, south of Mandan, on Saturday. It's one of the biggest such sales in the country this year, just in time for the best buffalo market in a decade. The couple hopes the public comes down to enjoy the sights and sounds of the event. Mike McCleary/Forum News Service

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