Rancher Dillinger develops his own ‘buffalo philosophy’

Spring at the Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch.

By Brett Ziegler
WESTMORELAND – The North American Bison, commonly known as buffalo, still roam the Kansas prairie. Ed Dillinger operates Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch, the family’s ranch brand that started in the 1960s and is located northeast of Manhattan.

Dillinger grew up on a farm near Brewster in western Kansas. When he and his wife, Susan, moved to Westmoreland in 1994, they started out with beef calves and horses, but Dillinger also had an interest in bison. After extensive research and talking with other ranchers, the Dillingers started the Lazy Heart D Bison Ranch.

Dillinger’s herd began with five heifer calves that he purchased from Circle 3 Ranch in Longford. A year later he purchased five more, and eventually another five. That was all he could afford at the time.

Rancher Ed Dillinger

So, how does Dillinger run the operation by himself?

The secret, he says, is to understand the bison. They are gentle creatures; bison love their space and are athletic, smart and strong. On average, a bull can weigh between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds compared to the average cow, which can weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.  Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour and leap up to six feet in the air.

Time is another key ingredient. Dillinger says bison are a low maintenance creature. He has a saying, “Whatever time it takes, that’s buffalo time.”

Dillinger characterizes his “buffalo philosophy” with the quote, “Take what you can get and figure out how to use it.” This comes from his experience in working and sorting his bison.  They are too smart, fast, and strong to impose a single plan without well-designed facilities.  He is always ready to adjust his plans at any moment.

Dillinger’s bison graze on cool season grasses like brome and fescue during the months of March to April and after November. Bison prefer native grass between the months of May and November. The bison also enjoy small amounts of hay during the summer.

Health is a big concern when it comes to livestock, especially internal parasites. There are currently no bison vaccines available, but some ranchers used bovine vaccines as a precaution.

On the other hand, bison do benefit from treatment for internal parasites.  Ivomec and Cydection are two examples of treatments. These treatments can be poured on the back, injected, or fed. Dillinger uses the pour method at least once a year and believes there is additional benefit in utilizing two treatments spaced over the year.

Dillinger thinks the future in bison will fluctuate depending on the demand for meat. “The interest comes from the consumer,” he said. “There are not enough bison to make money compared to cattle.”

There are roughly 100 bison ranchers in Kansas and 70 are part of the Kansas Bison Association. The number of bison on each ranch range from five to 200 head.

Regulations for bison are similar to those of cattle. Meat inspectors and buffalo certificates are required and Dillinger says ranchers in Kansas work closely with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The purchasing and demand of bison has increased over the past several months.  There has been approximately 50 percent increase in price. In the fall of 2010 the price was $2.60 to $2.75 a pound. This spring it was up to $3.50 a pound.

Although the price of bison seems expensive, the nutrition profile makes it worth the cost.  Bison is full of nutrients and high in protein while low in fat. The fat it contains are “good” fats—mono and polyunsaturated fat. Bison also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Lastly, bison is a good source of vitamin B12 and iron.

Dillinger’s main goals are providing fun and eventful tours to complement the industry and have meat available for those who wish to purchase it. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with others as his schedule permits.

On tours, it takes tourists approximately 15 minutes to realize the difference in bison interaction. The bison will greet visitors, waiting for feed. This is a great way to have a close up experience and is one of the many reasons the job is heart-warming and rewarding.

When asked if he would change anything, Dillinger responded, “If what I did took me where I am now, I’d do it the same.”

Dillinger laughed when asked how much longer he would like to stay in the business, “I’ll go until I am pushing up daisies.”

Dillinger can be reached at lhdranch@wamego.net