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Raising Bison on the Prairie
The 29 animals grazing on Terry Lieb's Monticello farm look deceptively tame and friendly.
"A bison in the pasture is pretty docile," Lieb said. "But they don't like to be confined to small spaces. When they think they can't escape, they can get real ornery, so you gotta be real careful. If you're respectful of them you won't get hurt, but the minute you don't, you don't think about what you're doing, they can get you."
That's why he has such a heavy-duty corral system, including catwalks for working the bison without getting inside with them.
"So then we run them through these alleyways," Lieb said. "Then we run them into this chute. We shut this gate before we run them in here. This is what they call a crash gate. They run up here and this stops them, so they can't come on through. Then we pull this, this squeezes down and it holds them in here. That holds their head. We can work on them without them getting hurt, and without us getting hurt."
He has simple advice once it's time to turn these beasts loose.
"When they come out of the chute, you just want to be out of the way, because they're coming like a rocket," Lieb said.
Thankfully the animals are so hardy that they don't need to be messed with very often.
"We've never had to treat one for sickness," Lieb said. "Mainly we run them in here to worm them and ear tag them. We've never had to have the vet out actually."
These are grass-fed beef, grazing on land converted back from highly erodable row crop fields.
"They'll eat corn, but they prefer grass," Lieb said. "I have a strip of prairie grass back there. They just love that. They evolved on grass, so they will fatten up and grow on just plain grass."
The diet only matters if it creates good meat.
"It's real lean, leaner than chicken really," Lieb said. "It doesn't have a gamey taste at all. It tastes like a real sweet beef, so it's a real good meat."
But that's not necessarily why he raises them.
"I've always enjoyed them since I was a kid," Lieb said. "I've really been fascinated with American history, and they were a big part of American history. Had my chance about 11 years ago when I was at a farm sale to buy one, and that was the beginning."
In Piatt County, Mike Brooks, ABC NewsChannel 20.