Lodge owners seeing promise with bison

7 years ago

OXBOW, Maine — For years a small bison herd has roamed the fenced-in pastures of the Homestead Lodge near the Aroostook River in the unincorporated township of Oxbow.

When Glen and Ann Kleinfelter purchased the Homestead Lodge four years ago, the bison herd came along with the 300 acre property and old farmhouse, and the big game animals are becoming an important opportunity for the diversified hunting and outfitting business.

“Bison are by far easier than anything I’ve ever had. They are so self-sufficient,” said Glen Kleinfelter, who is aiming to increase the size of the herd from 35 to 60. “They eat grass in the summer and hay in the winter.” Aside from mineral sticks and a water source, they don’t need much else, Kleinfelter said. They spend the winter outside, well insulated from the cold and snow and resting with a low metabolism.

Bison meat is lean and often much of it is turned into burger, as the animal has less meat for roasts and steaks than beef.  But the meat is delicious and healthy in the same way as grass fed beef, Kleinfelter said, adding that the meat is high in omega 3 fatty acids and B12 vitamins.

Kleinfelter said he thinks that bison meat is “better than moose.”

Bison once ranged the American Great Plains in the tens of millions and formed the core of many Native American diets. By 1900 they were almost hunted to extinction, but have since rebounded in the wild and in farm-raised settings and game preserves. According to the National Bison Association, there about 400,000 bison in the U.S. with 90 percent on private ranches.

Like some other game animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows bison meat to be inspected by state authorities under a custom slaughter program, where the process can be done on site rather than transporting animals to a facility.

Other Mainers raising bison include Linda White of Smyrna and operations in southern and western Maine.

Bison is seeing increased popularity along with demand for naturally-raised meat. The animals are cold-hardy and low-maintenance, but require upfront investments in strong, tall fencing and breeding stock.

“It’s expensive to get into it,” he said, noting that the purchase of three breeder bulls cost $20,000.

Also, the animals need to be kept at a distance, Kleinfelter said, noting that he doesn’t go into the pastures without a vehicle. “You cannot test a bison and walk around them. They can just turn on you in a second. They can run very fast and jump six feet at a standstill.”

Nonetheless, Kleinfelter said he thinks growing the bison herd will be a good investment. He currently sells bison to the public from the Homestead Lodge and to a distributor who sells them at farmers markets around New England.

The Homestead Lodge also holds several bison hunts each year, to compliment guiding service for other game seasons.

“It’s a guaranteed hunt,” Kleinfelter said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, we get them in the first half-hour or hour.”

The Kleinfelters acquired the Homestead Lodge four years ago to pursue a dream of running a guiding business, and now offer four-season lodging, a restaurant and bar, and guided hunting for bear, moose, bison, deer, birds and coyotes.

Originally from the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area, Glen Kleinfelter spent years as a master plumber before opening Peaceful Valley Campground in western Pennsylvania, while also hunting all over the country, including northern Maine.  

“I knew this place existed and I said to my wife, one of these days I’d like to be an outfitter. After open heart surgery, I decided that was the time.”

These days, Ann, a registered nurse, works at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle while Glen tends to the lodge and also works for the county government as a plow driver.

One of their daughters runs their campground business.

Taking over and renovating the lodge was an undertaking, as is meeting the expectations of hunting customers for bear and other game, Kleinfelter said.

“The hunting industry is totally different than it was 20 years ago. There’s less people hunting now. You’ve got to be diversified.”

Nonetheless, Kleinfelter said, running the lodge and tending to a buffalo herd is a good recipe for an active, interesting retirement.

“I’m at the age now I want to enjoy what I do and not do what I have to do.”