Bison, pigs, chickens and kids flourish at Backwoods Buffalo Ranch
By Aminah Syed 23 February 2021 5 min read
There’s a lot to like about Laurie Trigg from Backwoods Buffalo Ranch. That’s possibly why she has groups of vegans, vegetarians and animal activists routinely following her ranch on Instagram—and not for the reasons you’d think.
“They respectfully follow the account and often thank us for explaining things in a deeper aspect, rather than thinking we are just pushing them to eat meat,” says Laurie. “We’re all about education. We believe that there needs to be a lot of open conversations when it comes to agriculture so that people can have a deeper understanding of what we do and why we do it.”
You can find Backwoods Buffalo Ranch nestled into a 320-acre piece of land just south of Mayerthorpe, Alberta. When you visit, you are instantly welcomed by the sounds of rooting pigs, clucking chickens, and Laurie’s two toddlers giggling. Built with her husband Chad, the pair believe in raising their animals free-range and as natural as possible. The animals roam large pastures and live outdoors, and the Triggs take the utmost care possible to love and respect the animals from birth to harvest.
“We started when we were 22 and 23 and we always tell people that we had dreams bigger than our bank account,” laughs Laurie. “We are first-generation bison, pork and chicken farmers, and we love it.”
Both Laurie and Chad grew up on beef operations, so when they purchased their little slice of paradise after getting married, they planned to raise cattle. However, they realized the land was already fenced for bison. Neither Laurie nor Chad were likely to shy away from a challenge, so they started out with nine bison cows, one bison bull and a lot of random chickens.
“Now we have about 40 pastured hogs and we have about 80 head of bison and in May we’ll have over a hundred more once our cows calve,” explains Laurie, having just brought a chicken into her kitchen to wash frozen clumps of dirt off its feet. The little chicken, grateful for the warm bath during a winter cold snap, was then sent back outside to carry on for another day.
Bison and cattle are not the same
Bison, as Laurie and Chad have learned, are quite a bit different from cattle. For instance, they’re much lower maintenance when it comes to calving.
“They're very hands-off when it comes to calving time,” Laurie says. “You do not help. Our bison actually disappear into the bush for about two weeks. Then they slowly start to trickle out with their calves. Whereas beef, if they are having trouble, they're a lot more hands-on.”
The same rings true for feeding. Since all of the animals on the ranch are pastured, the bison would much rather graze on grass than hay bales.
“They prefer to forage for grass over getting fed every day,” says Laurie. “So we take bales out for our animals every couple of days. If there is lots of grass still left in the field, they'll choose to forage over actually eating the hay that we've provided for them.”
Laurie is quick to warn, though, that lower maintenance doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Due to their strength and size, bison are more dangerous than cattle—so you have to know what you’re doing.
“It’s much faster-paced for sure,” says Laurie.
Fast-paced would be a good way to describe a day on the ranch, despite the stereotype of slow, sleepy rural living. There are no vacation days when you have animals to care for, farmer’s markets to stock, a cow to milk and a general store open on the property one day a week for customers to purchase meat and take a tour of the ranch.
During that tour, visitors will notice the breeding hogs all have names, as do the bison bulls and even many of the laying hens.
“Even though our animals are raised for meat, it doesn’t mean that we can’t care for them for their time that they’re on this earth, right?” says Laurie. “We believe that animals and the earth should work hand-in-hand. By loving our animals and them living the most natural life that they possibly can, we find it just works really well. That way the animals and the soil are happier.”
Laurie’s respect for the whole animal stems largely from their families' Métis heritage where emphasis is placed on using all parts of the animal, from nose to tail, with no waste.
“We find that it respects and values the animal’s life if it can be used as a whole, rather than just the parts that are most commonly used for meat,” says Laurie. “Our family saves all of the skulls and capes. Brain matter is used for tanning. The feet are saved and used for dog treats.”
Recently, a local artist collected bison bones from the ranch for an exhibit at Fort Edmonton Park to showcase the various ways ancient Indigenous populations would have used the animals.
Open and honest communication about where food comes from
The Trigg family hopes that by being open on social media about their practices, they’ll help bridge the gap from farm to fork.
“Food doesn’t just end up at the grocery store shrink-wrapped,” says Laurie. “There was a live animal that someone loved and cared for, respected and hopefully harvested humanely. And, they had value on that animal’s life from start to finish.”
Though some people might not agree to farm animals for meat, Laurie has noticed a shift in thinking, largely thanks to COVID-19. At the early onset of the pandemic, the ranch quickly started offering door-to-door delivery.
“A lot of people are starting to have a deeper appreciation for local products and learning where their food comes from and then even starting to grow their own food,” she says. “A lot of farms have found ways to bring people farm-fresh foods in a time where immune systems are down. We need that.”
When it comes to agriculture there are a lot of ups and downs – long days, extreme weather and global pandemics – but Laurie would not trade a single second of it.
“I love walking out my door in the morning and seeing my free-range chickens all over the yard, pecking and scratching and our dogs sleeping in the sun and bison coming up from the field. It’s just so worth it. All of it,” says Laurie.
We’re celebrating National Agriculture Day today with Laurie over on ATB’s Instagram. Check out our stories to ask your questions and get a behind-the-scenes tour of Backwoods Buffalo Ranch. There might even be a bison cameo or two.