Veterans Farming Bison: An All American Story

Updated: Feb 10

Bison Farmer Liz Riffle is nothing short of amazing. She's a Navy Veteran, a nurse. She's married to a Navy nurse practitioner with a preference for trauma care who's on active duty. They are both in their 30s and to retire they decided to farm BISON. American Bison. Home on the Range Bison! It's an amazing story and a fascinating conversation!


Come with me -- your host, Farm Girl -- into a new Talk Farm to Me series: Straight Talk! It's a first cut, one take recording of my conversation with a farmer. And today, that farmer is bison farmer Liz Riffle of Riffle Farms in West Virginia. We talk about her majestic herd, how her military service prepared her for farming, her seriously Straight Talk on harvesting animals and how to be an honest carnivore. You will fall in love with Liz, her fierce spirit and her one-ton compatriots.


If you like what you hear, please let us know! The best way to support this podcast is to write a review on the iTunes podcast app. You can also share it with friends or with the world on Instagram (if you do, please tag me @xoxofarmgirl and @talkfarmtome). YOU are the very best way to get more people to listen to Talk Farm to Me and to get to know more farmers, like Liz, and their amazing stories.


Thanks for listening! Thanks for your help in getting the word out there! You are one of the 10,000+ unique listeners who are tuning in!


Talk farm soon!

xoxo, Farm Girl



SHOW NOTES

The book that Liz mentions in our discussion is Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I provide a link for you in my Amazon profile, in case you are interested.


GUESTS

Liz Riffle, Bison Farmer, Riffle Farms

Find Liz and Riffle Farms on Instagram at @RiffleFarms5160


PHOTOS

All of the photos were provided by the farmer and used with permission. Merci beaucoup.


MUSIC

The music in this episode was created specifically for Talk Farm to Me by professional musician and songwriter Douglas Haines via Fiverr.


SPECIAL THANKS

Always thank you to the amazing farmers who have been on any episode of Talk Farm to Me. Thank you Liz for being the first farmer in the Straight Talk series!


TRANSCRIPT

For those of you who cannot listen to the podcast or prefer to read it, here's a full transcript. Please forgive any typos.


Farm Girl:

Hey, it's Farm Girl, your host for Talk Farm to Me. Welcome to our new Straight Talk series. This series features a first take, one cut recording of a conversation with one farmer. And we get into it.


I am so excited to introduce you to Liz Riffle. Liz, together with her husband Jimmy, farm bison. You know, American Buffalo. One ton animals with giant, majestic profiles, and a storied American history. I'm not sure if I could bring you a more American tale. Liz and Jimmy are veterans. They are farmers. They share their lives with a herd of bison. You are going to love Liz. And just a warning, we get down and dirty on some pretty important issues. I'm pretty sure that this episode will leave you with plenty to think about.


Farm Girl:

I wanted to start at the beginning with you, really about you and your husband. And your status as veterans. I want to understand your service and to hear from you about that.


Liz Riffle:

We met while on active duty in the military. So I was a Navy nurse for six years. And we both met doing wounded warrior care, actually, in Bethesda, Maryland. So we took care of guys, mostly guys, it was very few females. But mostly guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, 24 hours post-injury. So it was a lot. And I was young. Jimmy's got a few years on me, so he wasn't quite as young, and he was in the military previously. He was prior-enlisted. So he enlisted in the military when he was 17. And was able to go back to school a couple times, and ended up being a nurse.


Liz Riffle:

And so that's how we met on that floor, because we both ended up being stationed at the same place. Which was very cool. And we learned a lot together, and started hanging out more. And then eventually, it became more of a romantic thing. So we then crossed the nation, and we were stationed in Bremerton, Washington for a little bit together. And that's where we decided to get married. We actually got married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because we're both outdoors men and skiers and stuff. And that is where the buffalo still roam. And that's where that idea kind of started to peak our interest, as well.


Liz Riffle:

So we got married, and I decided to get out of the military a few years after we got married, just because we were at the point where we wanted to start a family. And the military wasn't playing real nice with us in regards to stationing us together. So I can be a nurse out of the military, so I chose to do that. And then he only had about five years left when we made that decision, until retirement. So we decided to come back to the East coast and make some plans in regards to retirement. And what we were going to do from there.


Liz Riffle:

So he was born and raised in West Virginia. So we chose to kind of come back to the East coast. We're currently now in the Norfolk area. Norfolk, Virginia, Virginia Beach, while he finishes out a couple more years. He is still active duty and is a nurse practitioner in the emergency room. At this point, he loves the trauma care. So that's his thing.


Farm Girl:

Well, thank you to him, and to you, also, for your service. And yes, if you're built for trauma care, we need you out there.


Farm Girl:

So how many years did you serve as a nurse in the Navy, then?


Liz Riffle:

I did 6 1/2 years as a nurse. So, yeah. It was a wild experience, let me tell you. I learned a lot. It was hard. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of hours. I, actually, myself, was never deployed overseas. But I saw what was coming back from overseas.


Farm Girl:

Explain that a little bit to me, what you saw.


Liz Riffle:

Sure. Kind of like I was saying before, we took care of the, primarily men, young Marines, who were in different fights. Maybe that's not probably the best term for this. But, that came back and were blown up, honestly, to pieces. And that was really hard to see when I was 22, and taking care of a young man who was 19 and no longer had limbs. Missing multiple limbs. And some of them were missing all of their limbs. And some of these guys were trying to come back to fiances or trying to come back to families. And it rocked their worlds.


Liz Riffle:

So it was a wonderful learning experience to see what the body can do, and what it can make it through, and how we as human beings are so programmed to live. And your body wants to just fix it. It's like, "Okay, I don't have an arm. Fine, we're going to fix this. We're going to get through this." The will to live is amazing. From the physical and the mental standpoint. That's a lot of what I saw.


Liz Riffle:

So we took care of quite a few folks who got The Purple Heart, because they saved other men in their platoon. We had one young guy who put his helmet over a grenade that exploded. And kind of blew apart his face. But he saved the other five guys who were in that squad doing that mission that morning.


Liz Riffle:

So, we still keep in touch. Facebook's a nice thing, because you can kind of track some of these guys and how they're doing. I had a guy who was in a Humvee who was the driver, unfortunately, and drove over an IED. And it exploded and killed all of his passengers. So he was having a really hard time with that, and he broke his back and almost didn't live through that, just because of the injuries he had on his spinal cord and things like that.


Liz Riffle:

But he lived through that, and his big thing was he wanted to be able to walk his sister down the aisle. And so, that was what his goal was throughout all of his rehabbing. And he did it. He did a great job. And the pictures, I remember seeing the pictures on Facebook. They were fabulous. So that was really, really cool.


Liz Riffle:

And then I had one guy, too, come back to me. He was a triple amputee. So it was above the knee on one side, and I think above both of his elbows. And he got a prosthetic arm, and I remember when he was practicing with that arm, and he came up to the unit to find me, and he's like, "Hey Liz." He's like, "Check this out." And he wrote his name for me on my paper. Which was really cool. And just so inspiring, that these guys are just like... They want to keep going.


Liz Riffle:

A lot of them joined the military for a reason, and they've got that drive. And so that drive is what helped keep them going. And that young man, specifically, now is a professional paraplegic athlete. He does a lot of biking racing and stuff like that. So it's really fun to watch him, too.


Liz Riffle:

So those are the types of things that have stayed with me and will obviously stay with me for forever. It was kind of like the pinnacle and the nadir of my military career, I feel like. It was both. It was both awesome and terrible, all at the same time. So it was crazy. And it built me. It built my drive, it's why I feel like everyday I go out and make the most of everyday. Because sometimes some people don't get that opportunity anymore. And when I was at the bedside telling some of these young men that, "Hey, there's so much to live for. Think of all the cool things you can still do, and be with your young daughter," or, "Still, taking a dog for a walk, even if you're in a wheelchair," and just some of those really super simple things that a lot of us tend to take for granted, I chose to no longer take for granted and really live life to the fullest every single day.


Liz Riffle:

Also from that perspective was the fact that we were both still active duty military, and one or both of us could be deployed at any time, to any of those places, as well. And so, still with Jimmy active duty, when we're together, I make the most of our time. We both have decided to really focus on that, and focus on us as a couple, because we never know. Within 24 hours, he could be deployed. And then you don't know when you're going to see them again. And then unfortunately, I mean, you hope they're going somewhere safe. But they're not always going somewhere safe.


Liz Riffle:

I always tell him when he's trying to pack his bags, and he gets 24 hours to, "Oh my gosh, are we going somewhere?" And I always look at him, I'm like, "You come home to me. You better come home to me. I don't care if you're in pieces, you're coming home to me." But that's always our thing, and it's just because of the background we have, and what we've seen. So it's always in the back of your mind.


Farm Girl:

You have a lot of really amazing American stories all wrapped into that you just shared.


Liz Riffle:

Yeah, yeah. That's all American, you know?


Farm Girl:

All American. So there's another American story that we're going to talk about today. And that is the American Bison, which I'm very excited to talk with you about. I was looking at the history of the bison in America, and back in the 1500's there were more than 30 million bison.


Liz Riffle:

Yes.


Farm Girl:

Incredible. And then, by the end of the 1800's, while white settlers were moving West, we went down to 325 bison from more than 30 million.


Really incredible conservation story that we are now at 500,000 bison across the United States. And there are 5,000 in Yellowstone Park, which is an incredible feat, of wild American Bison. And I wanted to share, too, that in May of 2016, the American Bison was anointed as the first national mammal to take it's place alongside the bald eagle as an American symbol.


Farm Girl:

And so, who better to talk to then a Navy veteran who has incredible patriotic American background and, I know hundreds of stories. Thank you for sharing the ones that you did. But I'd like to talk to you about the bison, really, as an animal. What are they like? How do they behave as individuals?


Farm Girl:

How do they behave as individuals and in a herd and share your experience with the animal itself. And we'll get into the farming issues as we go forward but I'd really like to understand the animal as much as possible.


Liz Riffle:

Yeah. They are a spectacular animal, just a really cool wild beast, honestly. Some folks would say that they're semi-domesticated and I agree to that because they do play nice inside of fences most of the time, but this animal totally embodies the American spirit. It just wants to keep going, and it is out there, it's resilient, it is ready for pretty much anything nature can throw at it which is usually a benefit to the farmer just from that perspective. But they're just a really amazing animal, they're big and they're fluffy and they are quirky sometimes too. They're very curious and some of them are very, very smart.


Liz Riffle:

We have a handful of animals that do want to come up to you but like to keep your distance and have figured out where certain things are, our animals are grass-fed and finished. Occasionally we'll give them grain just to move them around and I have some animals that know where it is and they know what the bag looks like. And they are very calculated in how close they get to you and which fences and gates they can go through and so it's funny to watch them think about all of that stuff, they're just they're smart.


Liz Riffle:

And that maybe caught me off guard a little bit because I was thinking more along the cattle side. I grew up with horses so I'm used to a smart, large animal, I didn't really expect that out of a bison so they're very, very smart. And they don't want to be messed with, really, they prefer to just let them be and it's just so cool to watch them do their thing and try and keep our hands off of that and let them do what they do best, is be bison. A prime example is right now in the winter they're totally cool with that. They've got these big, beautiful coats and they just sit there in the snow and they just let the snow come down on them. They don't need a barn, they don't need shelter, I mean, to the point where you even have them in some bigger pastures that have tree coverage, they'll sit right out in the middle of the snow storm without the trees with the calves, everybody's hanging out and it's not a problem.


Liz Riffle:

They're just a resilient, robust, animal who demands respect. You think you can walk up to them sometimes and touch them and pet them but that's not what they want. They don't want to be cuddled, they don't want to be snuggled, they don't really want to be touched. They can be enticed occasionally but they really just want to be left alone to roam around and eat the grass. That's really our big thing and it's really just cool to watch. And it's a good reminder. I feel like for me it is to just let nature be nature, let that bison do its thing. And again, it just goes back to that American spirit and the resiliency piece, is that if you just let them be that they're just going to be that resilient animal. And it's cool, it's cool to watch and it's a cool reminder for me.


Farm Girl:

How many bison do you have on your farm?


Liz Riffle:

We have a very small herd compared to most. We only have 35 animals so I can count them all on a regular basis.


Farm Girl:

When Liz says, "Only 35." it makes it sound small but her biggest male bison is 2000 pounds. And in case you're wondering, she keeps about one male for every 10 females for breeding purposes, which means that number is always growing including now because she had a few surprise pregnancies this year and has babies on the ground this winter. Generally though, breeding season is from August to October.


Liz Riffle:

We don't have hundreds running around but that is something that we plan on expanding, we just want to make sure that we have a symbiotic relationship with the land as well. So as we learn more in the animals teach us more about how they can cooperate with the land, we can expand some more and be very smart about how many animals we have. We have the opportunity to expand on 80 plus more acres.


Farm Girl:

Riffle farms currently has 35 bison on 64 acres.


Liz Riffle:

... And the potential to go beyond that too. But we just want to be careful because we're kind of re-introducing the animal to the area. Bison did once roam as far East as D.C. There's plenty of history and buffalo trails and lots of towns have some schools and places named after the bison and that's specific because the bison used to travel that far, honestly.


Farm Girl:

Yeah, when I heard that you were firming bison in West Virginia I was definitely scratching my head.


Liz Riffle:

Right, right, right, yes. Many people do? They're like, "Why, why?"


Farm Girl:

Let's talk about that a little bit, the scratching the head part. I think there are less 2000 bison farms in the United States and you are one of them. Just a little sidebar here, according to the National Bison Association, nearly 184,000 bison live on private ranches in the U.S., and the most recent U.S. Census for Agriculture in 2017 counted a total of 1,775 bison farms. If you want to find one, the National Bison Association actually has an app. Yep, I downloaded it with about 160 bison farms in their buyer's guide. You said you grew up with horses but why did you choose to farm bison?


Liz Riffle:

With that healthcare background we had, or we have, we were meat eaters, I'm a carnivore, but I'm also an animal lover. That's my horse background, is being the animal lover. As a nurse and a healthcare professional my other priority is obviously the health and what we put inside of our body, and learning more about the meat that we were eating and where it came from made me think about... I was kind of appalled in regards to how some of these animals are treated prior to going to the slaughter facility. And I was like, "Look, I really feel like maybe we need to get into this. Forget we're going to have a farm and have horses, and we're talking about retirement and what we're going to do with that, along with our horses why don't we get into the meat business?"


Liz Riffle:

And so Jimmy is like, "Okay, that sounds like a great idea." And then when we were doing some of that traveling out in Jackson, Wyoming, and eating some of the bison and going into some of the shops we're like, "Hey, folks sell bison." He's like, "I wonder if we could raise bison." And we went into one little shop out there and asked, "Where's everybody getting this bison and they're not obviously going and shooting these animals in Yellowstone and then selling the meat in the restaurant?" And the guy's like, "Yeah, there are quite a few folks out here who have bison ranches."


Liz Riffle:

And that got us thinking, "Oh, okay, maybe we could do something as interesting as bison." And looking into more into the meat and the health profile the meat bison actually has less fat in it than chicken, but it's red meat and it's full of iron and really great omega-3 fatty acids and actually surpasses the health profile of all grass-fed and grass-finished beef.


Farm Girl:

According to an evidence-based report on healthline.com, bison is leaner than beef with 25% less calories. It also is higher in iron, protein, and contains a good of essential nutrients including zinc, selenium and B vitamins.


Liz Riffle:

And so we were like, "This may be a great thing to do." And we loved the taste of bison. So once we started talking to a handful of ranchers and realizing that this is doable, folks actually do this, we're like, "Yeah, let's do this." This is a niche market, there are not very many bison farms, and they're sure as heck aren't very many on the East Coast. I think we could do this and do this well and offer a new regional product to folks that are meat eaters and want to be an honest carnivore about it. They want good flavor, they want good health profile, and they want a animal and farmer who is treating their animals in a humane manner. And I was like, "I think we can do all those things."


Farm Girl:

As white settlers moved West they were really competing for the land and for dominance over that land with Native Americans who really valued the bison first and foremost as food, they used it for shelter and they really revered the bison. And I'm just curious there in West Virginia what kind of connection that you all have with the Native American history in that element.


Liz Riffle:

There are Sioux tribes in West Virginia, interestingly enough and they're were so excited to have these animals back in the area, but they're very few and far between. And we've actually had, we had them come out and actually bless the herd for us and teach us some of the words and things like that to maybe connect more on a spiritual level which is definitely something that I'm interested in.


Farm Girl:

I was thinking in my head a little bit about the idea of retirement and I I started playing Family Feud in my head, top 10 things that you will do in retirement and I'm thinking about Steve Harvey, right?


Liz Riffle:

Yeah, yeah.


Farm Girl:

And the family is there on Family Feud and the first person comes up to the buzzer and says, "I'm going to farm bison." And then I just see his face and he's shaking his head. He's like, "What do you mean? No golf? How on earth?" I mean, you're young so you don't really look like retirement age and you say Jimmy is just a little bit older. In fact, Liz, is 33 and Jimmy is 38. Retirement, and you are first-time farmers?


Liz Riffle:

Yep.


Farm Girl:

Explain to me what the heck?


Liz Riffle:

Yes. I mean, we're doers, so we're not going to retire and just, I guess golf, that wasn't going to be the thing. The other thing you mentioned too is the age thing, is that's one of the benefits...


Liz Riffle:

The other thing you mentioned too, is the age thing, that's one of the benefits of the military. When you join, when you're young, they use and abuse you until roughly 40 and then they're done. And then you're 40 or so, you're still in the middle of your life and some people would say in your prime. So there's other things we want to do and I guess owning a small business is one of them. Everybody else thought we were crazy. And I mean, there's still plenty of our best friends and our family who still thinks that we're crazy. And that this still is not going to be a viable thing, it's not going to expand and things like that. So I can't wait to make it a pretty big deal and show everybody that, "Hey, this is really what we want to do." But it's just the mentality that we've always actually probably worked two jobs, both of us since we were like teenagers so the hard work definitely wasn't something that put us off by any means.


Liz Riffle:

It was really more a pull, I guess, towards the lifestyle, we really wanted to raise our family on a farm, in a place where Jimmy grew up and he knows the woods and the hollers. Jimmy's actually a really big whitewater rafter and he knows a lot of those rivers like the back of his hand. And he's like, wouldn't it be amazing to be out there and be comfortable and show our kids the woods and the whitewater rafting and the farm and horses and where meat really comes from. So that was a big pull for us. We waited a long time to start a family for a reason and now that we have a one-year-old running around and we're in the process, we want to be able to do that how we've always envisioned it. On a farm with rolling hills and kids running around getting muddy and it doesn't matter. And that's great.


Farm Girl:

And bison.


Liz Riffle:

Yes. And bison.


Farm Girl:

So tell me what the business looks like, what it looks like now and what you hope it to look like. How are you selling your meat and where, and what else are you selling, and do you have a little store?


Liz Riffle:

Yeah, we do. We just created a little storefront this year, actually, we had some space to do that. We've just had more and more folks who want to come up to the farm, obviously to see the animals because most people, especially on the east coast have never even seen a bison. So they want to see the animal and I want to make it worth your time because I'm in the middle of West Virginia, it's in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of hills and hollers and I'm hard to get to and the roads aren't great. So if you're going to come to me, I'm going to make it worth your time.


Liz Riffle:

So we do sell at a couple of farmer's markets locally in the West Virginia Area, no further than 50 miles from the farm. Last year, we actually did a robust tour and tasting series on the farm, which a lot of the agritourism piece has really been big for us because we have an interesting animal. We can really pull folks to the farm from that perspective. So what we do is we do a full tour on the farm and it's interesting to obviously see the animals and we do have to handle them occasionally throughout the year, it's usually only about twice a year. And we have a robust handling system to be able to do that with these animals who are super athletic, they can jump six feet from a standstill, basically. We have had to add rails to our corral, they don't like to be in small spaces. So if they are in a very small space, it has to be for a very short period of time. And even when they are in a small space, they want to jump out of it. So we had six foot high walls and I had animals multiple times almost make it all the way over from a standstill. So we've added height to that, so it's seven and a half foot walls now and I still have animals who will try and get over it.


Liz Riffle:

So that's really cool to see attached to our shoot system and we have a massive 2000 pounds squeeze shoot with a roll cage on the front and all that stuff that's really cool for folks to see and play around with and the kids run through it and things like that.


Farm Girl:

What do you use that for?


Liz Riffle:

So we use that to vet them twice a year. So just to make sure, we do vaccines and we do deworm. So we do that twice a year for all the animals. And so we have to have them squeezed down to be able to that, and then to tag like the calves. So just like a cattle shoot, it's just a more robust version of that. So folks really like to see that, which is kind of cool.


Liz Riffle:

We do a tasting because a lot of folks haven't even had bison before, so they want to try the bison. And then bison meats a little bit pricier than your grass fed and finished beef. So they want to make sure they know how to cook it before they buy an expensive steak, they don't want to mess it up. So we show them how to do that too, which has been fun. And last year we actually did our first bison roast, so we field harvested one of our male animals and put him on a spit, a massive giant spit that you can only move with the tracker, which we had custom done. Put him over a fire all day long, had over 110 people up to the farm with live music and local brewery doing the booze. And yeah, we had a blast that was in July. It was really, really fun, we're going to do that again this year.


Liz Riffle:

So agritourism is really a big thing for us because folks want to come out and see the animals and they want to know how to cook it, what it tastes like. So that's been huge. And we, this year, are going to add to our tour and tasting dates. We're doing another bison roast in October, and we're actually opening it up because more folks to want to know where their meat comes from and how to cut it. So we're actually doing butchery classes too. So we're going to start doing that as well. Since I'm in Norfolk, Virginia, sometimes with Jimmy because that's where he's stationed, we actually chose to expand to that area and we do a farmer's market out in Norfolk now, too.


Farm Girl:

Now, do you have plans to sell beyond your local area?


Liz Riffle:

Yeah, I would love to that. I would love to be able to ship you my Riffle Farms bison anywhere in the country slash in the world. That would be great. There are a couple operations that already do a beautiful job with that and I'm not in a hurry to compete with them. Folks that do out it west and have giant farms. And I'm not really looking to have a giant bison ranch. I like doing the agritourism stuff, I like doing the tastings, I would like to, honestly, expand to the point where I can have a commercial kitchen and do some value added products with the bison and do more events on the farm. And even to the point where we expand and have maybe cabin rentals where folks can come out and stay and play in the area for the whole weekend. You get to see the bison and you get to stay at the bison ranch. So in the morning when you drink your coffee on the porch of the cabin and watch the Buffalo roam in West Virginia, wouldn't that be so cool. So that's, I guess, my vision really is what I want to do there. Instead of competing with folks who can ship their meat everywhere. I want it to be more of an experience. I want you to experience the animal and experience the coolness that is the American bison.


Farm Girl:

I think that's an amazing dream. I want to get into the nitty gritty of farm reality with you. You mentioned that you field dressed one of your male Bison's. You said you harvested it right there on the farm. I'd like to talk about harvesting in general. So when you're harvesting, how is it being done? Are you using USDA and what other options are out there?


Liz Riffle:

So another nice thing about the bison is that it's considered an exotic species. So once we started doing some research on farm planning and stuff, we really chose to move forward with the bison as well, because there's not a whole lot of regulations around it. Bison's not a commodity like pork and chicken and beef is. So it does not technically need a USDA inspection to be sold across state lines, which is super convenient. It does need a state inspection to be sold commercially, but even the USDA as of January 2019, will technically come out to your farm and field harvest an exotic animal for commercial retail sale.


Liz Riffle:

We don't have a ton of USDA facilities around where we are in West Virginia and we really wanted to field harvest the animals, that's part of the reason why I got into that, the slaughter process, I'm really picky about that and where all my meat comes from actually from the slaughter process. But there's quite a few local facilities and now we work with one that's only about an hour from the farm. I'm pretty good friends now with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and the gentlemen who runs the meat distribution and the regulatory body in regards to West Virginia. And we're going to now field harvest all of our bison for commercial sale.


Farm Girl:

And when you say you're picky about how meat is harvested, for example, and the slaughter facilities, have you participated and witnessed how that works? When you say you're picky, how do you implement that pickiness?


Liz Riffle:

I know. That's the tough part. So, a while back I did some reading, Eating Animals was one of the first book that I read.


Farm Girl:

She's talking about Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I'll put a link to this book in my show notes so that you can find it. It's a life-changer for sure, and so well-written.


Liz Riffle:

And if you read that book-


Farm Girl:

I read that.


Liz Riffle:

And so he started to talk about how these animals are actually processed and kept, and I was like horrified. Then started doing more research into what are the other options? These animals, the factory farming perspective, which is appalling in and of itself and that some of these pigs when taken off the farm don't even know how to like get into shelter because the genetics are so wonky with them that they just don't act like pigs anymore. And these cows, when we were actually stationed out in Lemoore, California, cow country, all these facilities where there's a bazillion cows sitting on these small lots, and it's all just muddy and a bunch of cow poop and the whole town smells like cow poop because of it.


Liz Riffle:

I just was having a hard time with that and these slaughter facilities. And even to the point where, when I was looking at places to bring my bison going to slaughter facilities to see where they were, how long it took us to get there, seeing some of these animals that were outside of the slaughter facilities, hanging out in these pens all day long while their buddies were being slaughtered and they can smell the blood. It just didn't sit... It just didn't sit right with me. It just doesn't sit right with me. And then the stress that's induced on that animal, like you can see that. And I guess growing up with the horses, and I did a lot of training, a lot of horse training. And so, that takes a lot of nonverbal communication and trying to figure out body language and what the eyes are telling you. And so, I feel like when you walk into or around a slaughter facility and you see the cows hanging out outside, they know what's going on. They're not comfortable. And I feel like that is a tough way to die. I feel like if this animal is going to be grown for my nutrition, I better be kind in regards to how I put them to death. Like I feel like that's my responsibility.


Liz Riffle:

If I'm going to be a meat eater, I want to make sure that that animal was treated with the utmost respect the entire time. To the point where I even have a hard time when folks say, "Oh, it was just one bad day. That last day is just... Darn, that's a bad day." And I'm like, "Yeah, that is a bad day." I don't know, I feel like the look in the eyes of an animal who is frightened or uncomfortable, it's hard to watch. And I even had a hard time bringing my bison to a facility like that. So, what we chose to do was my animal is taken and unloaded from the trailer right now and shot within minutes to seconds. Like they're not hanging around in a pen. We're not waiting three hours to be butchered. I'm going to show up and the animal is getting off this trailer and it will be shot.


Liz Riffle:

Unfortunately, even the trailer ride is stressful for most animals, especially a wild animal like bison. Some cattle are transported pretty frequently and might be more used to it, but I doubt it. I still think if you put a cow into a trailer, they're like, "What's going on?" The only animal who may get used to trailering is a horse. Okay. But when you put a pig in a trailer, when you put a cow in a trailer, they're kind of like, "What the heck?" I mean, pigs squeal and some of them are really big too and they're really hard to get into a trailer when they don't want to go. That tells you something, that they're nervous. They don't like the smell. It makes them nervous.


Liz Riffle:

And that adrenaline gets running in their bodies and then a lot of people say that's off-putting to the meat technically. But what really hit me hard with my bison is that we showed up to a USD facility. I had some younger males who we unloaded right there. And he got off the trailer, and unfortunately, or I guess fortunately the way with the slaughter facilities, it's not like a straight shot into the knock box. It's that they have to kind of like go around and kind of amazed to get there, which in theory is what calms them down. But it wasn't calming down my bison. And they were trying to jump out. And to the point where I had one of them just run into a concrete wall and he fractured his skull prior to being put down, which you can't see. So, you can't tell that they fracture their skull until after they're dead and we have the mounts done.


Liz Riffle:

So, I could tell once I went to go have that mountain done that his skull was in pieces. And the butcher had said something to me about, "Yeah, this one animal was freaking out and ran into the wall." And so, I was like, "Oh, okay, so he ran into the wall and he fractured his skull unfortunately prior to being shot." That's not okay. So, I was like, "I can't do that anymore. I'm not okay with my animals being exposed to that other last seconds of life." That's just not fair to have an animal be scared to death, literally. So-


Farm Girl:

And so, what can you do instead?


Liz Riffle:

So, we field harvest our animals now. We bring up a team and they are in the pasture and they are shot there. And usually they have, they have no idea. Yeah, there's a couple of extra people running around, but now that we do tours at the farm, they don't really notice it. And there are other animals in the pasture. Most of the time the animal goes down, the other animals don't even come over to see it. They're just like, "I'm going to go about our business and we're just going to walk over there." So talk about anti-stress. Like that is way better than putting an animal in a trailer and bringing them to the slaughter facility. So, I feel like we are so fortunate to raise these animals that don't require that type of regulation, but I'm pushing to get creative with how you do that with some of the other animals. And there are ways to do that. And we're working kind of at a state level to get some of that done too, to give folks the option to field harvest their animals and then sell it, typically not by pieces, but by quarters, you can do it.


Liz Riffle:

So, there's some opportunity there in regards to having multiple family units own an animal prior to be putting down. And then the animal can be field harvested and then they get their quarter. So, there's some great opportunity there for other farmers looking to do something better than the slaughter facility.


Farm Girl:

That's really interesting. And it sounds to me, with the farmers I've been talking to across the country, that they're looking for a lot more autonomy in terms of what they're able to do, and to run their business, and to care for their animals in the best way.


Liz Riffle:

Right.


Farm Girl:

One question, as we're wrapping up here, I heard you talk about being an honest carnivore.


Liz Riffle:

Yeah.


Farm Girl:

And I'd like to leave folks with a little discussion about that. Explain what an honest carnivore is and what our listeners, when they're thinking about eating meat, what they should be thinking about.


Liz Riffle:

Right. So, an honest carnivore is somebody who knows where their meat comes from primarily and knows how that meat is treated for their entire life from birth to death. Are you okay with that animal being nervous in the slaughter facility or are you not? Are you okay with that animal being factory farmed or are you not? And I want folks to realize where their meat is coming from and be honest about what they're eating on their plates. I mean, it just comes down to that meat that you just got at Walmart.


Liz Riffle:

Do you know where it came from? Do you know how it was treated? Do you know how old it was before it died? Do you know if it ever saw the light of day? And is that fair for you to be nourishing your body with an animal that doesn't get to be even outside or experience outside? And I encourage more folks to source their meat from farmers that they can talk to. And not everybody's perfect and the system is not perfect, but if we can work together to eat meat honestly and no longer just forget and pretend that we don't know where it actually comes from, that would be spectacular.


Farm Girl:

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Liz is the real deal. And even a herd of 1,000 pound bison are no match for her energy. Thanks for coming along on the Talk Farm to Me journey in this new straight talk series. If you liked what you heard, please share it with your friends and go to the purple podcast app on iTunes and give it some stars, and a written review so that other people like you can find out more about our farmers too.


For more information about Talk Farm to Me, including the show notes on this and other episodes, head over to talkfarmtome.com or follow Talk Farm to Me on Instagram. Yep, it's just @talkfarmtome. And you can follow me, your host, Farm Girl there too at @xoxofarmgirl. Special thanks to Liz Riffle for her time, her passion, and her willingness to share the behind the scenes of life on Riffle Farms. Please follow her on Instagram too at @rifflefarms5160. You will be mesmerized by her jumping bison.


Stay tuned for more episodes of Talk Farm to Me, including a deep dive series on dairy, more straight talk, and some really fun Five Live sessions that take place on Instagram Live, Thursdays at noon at @xoxofarmgirl. It's five questions with one farmer and the questions come from you. With Talk Farm to Me, there are 100 ways to get to know a farmer. Talk farm with you soon.

32 views0 comments