After spending an invigorating day at Katerra Exotics – the Katy, Texas rancher Pat Bierschwale’s bison ranch – I am newly excited about bison, even though I have loved eating it for a long time. First, a little introduction to Pat. He is not exactly the stereotypical Texas ranch man. He’s a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; he is also a family man, a husband and father of five. I arrived to find him buzzing vigorously around his somewhat starstruck bison herd like a king killer bee atop his black ATV. He seemed to mount and dismount the vehicle with the ease that could have only come from years and years of practicing a distinct combination of martial arts and ATV riding.
Pat came into his ranching profession half generationally and half nutritionally. Back in the early nineties, he came to understand as a professional fighter, the need for a highly fueling healthy protein like bison, and the problem of the lack of availability of it. That is when the market gap, and his grandfather’s cattle ranch in Leakey, Texas (which also held a small herd of about twelve bison) converged in his mind as a recipe for success. He decidedly made a radical move, and converted all the cattle in Leakey to bison, and then bought the ranch in Katy, which the family fittingly named ‘Ka-terra’, the prefix from Katy and terra being the word for “land” in Spanish.
He began selling bison through word of mouth, and eventually opened his first farmer’s market booth in Houston, where farmer’s markets are still somewhat an emerging trend for a city of well over six million. He is now the guy for bison in Houston, with an exclusive presence at all of the city’s major farmer’s markets and a storefront in Katy as well.
“’Most of my regular clientele seek me out because their cardiologist told them to give up red meat, except for bison.” -Pat Bierschwale
Though elite coaches and athletic trainers I have known have recommended bison as substitute for red meat for optimum physical performance, I usually attributed the recommendation to the lower fat content. However, as Pat explained that these massive animals (males usually weigh over two thousand pounds) are unstoppable athletes – rugged and strong, but also speedy and explosive in power – I came to understand why their muscle fiber is superior food for human athletes. “A full grown male bison can jump a five and half foot fence with ease” Pat informed, my eyes popping at the notion. He described how the big hump on their back acts as a center of gravity for these gladiator battle-worthy creatures. They can run at speeds as fast as thirty miles an hour, and they can stop on a dime, all two thousand pounds of them. Now, picture these beasts running at full throttle, and turning, leveraging the balance of the hump, pivoting a hundred and eighty degrees and taking off in another direction entirely – in order to evade a predator. After hearing him describe their physical abilities, I suddenly understood why olympians favor this ultra-athletic red meat.
Nutritionally, a four ounce portion of bison has about one hundred and twenty four calories, six grams of fat, seventeen grams of omega-3, extensive chains of amino acids, and high levels of vitamin b12, zinc, selenium, niacin, and iron. The amino acid profile is complete and brings the full chain of aminos that the human body cannot synthesize on its own and needs to build muscle, increase energy and optimize mental performance. It is a superfood meat, if you will.
Pat, though, says he knew this from his former cage fighting days, and seemed to move through the details at a clip that suggests these facts are all rote memory for him. While I was processing, he elaborated, “most of my regular clientele seek me out because their cardiologist told them to give up red meat, except for bison.” I was busy connecting the dots in my mind, though, remembering the charts I had recently seen comparing grass-fed meats and dairy to conventional (and it’s not even like the same food nutritionally – a post on that coming up). So, here is the part where I assure you that Katerra’s meat products are all entirely grass fed and grass finished. Pat explains how they care for each animal (though I prefer to call them beasts from now on, ok?) and how sparingly they administer vaccines, and how healthy his animals are, down to the moment they are taken to processing. When I asked how to be sure the bison we buy from supermarkets is equally cared for, he dropped the line that always makes me smile, prefaced with the caution “There’s only one way to know. Know your farmer.” Simple, and not debatable. I warmed considerably. That’s why I do what I do. So you can know the people behind the plow and how and why they do what they do.