Bison in the trees
Offering up quality cuts of the same protein that sus-tained early settlers, Bison Junction in Shady Cove garnered an imme-diate following when the store opened its doors in July 2020.
Taking a leap of faith, owners Lori and Joe Moore opened their retail shop just as pandemic restrictions were being put into place and mere weeks before a summer of devastating wildfires would force loss of business by way of evacuations and thick lingering smoke.
With firefighters even staging from the couple’s Wild Oasis Bison Ranch in Eagle Point, it was community support and an eager customer base for bison meat that sustained them for their first two years in business.
Previously in the corporate world of financial services, Lori Moore said the couple were ready for a change of pace when they made their way west and decided to raise bison. Growing up in Colorado, Moore said bison ranches were fairly common around her home state.
“We had actually quite a few bison ranches where I grew up, but very few on the road where you could see the animals,” she said.
“There was just one that, when I would drive to Denver, you could always see them, always hanging out near a pond. One time, when my husband and I were driving from Durango to Denver about 9 years ago, I said, ‘We should start a bison ranch.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, right. You know those things can kill you, right?’” Moore recalled with a laugh.
“A while after that, I found a sign somewhere that said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except for bison. Bison will kill you.’ I was kind of joking at the time but then eventually we did some research and visited a few bison ranches. And it all kind of just morphed.”
Starting their own ranch hap-pened in conjunction with moving from Colorado and finding property in Southern Oregon that was suit-able for the task of containing the up to one-ton-sized animals.
“My husband worked here already, and we found some property and spent eight months building a gnarly fence up top on our property,” Moore said. “It just, somehow, suddenly all came together.”
Moore said locals already familiar with bison meat simply want places to buy it, while newcomers to “American’s original red meat” are eager to get their first taste.
With a richer, slightly gamier flavor than beef, bison is lower in saturated fat than beef and chock full of nutrients. Bison Ranch animals are never grain fed and live out their days grazing in the foothills near Eagle Point.
“It’s the amount of protein you get in bison meat, without the saturated fat of cow’s meat, that makes it so good for you,” notes Moore.
As nutrient-dense as red meat, bison is similar to white meat in terms of calorie and fat content.
“I’ll ask people if they’ve ever had it, and more often than not they haven’t. That’s the main reason we started selling sliders during the spring and summer, to get people introduced to it. We keep things really simple, so they can taste the bison flavor. I’m really not trying to be in the restaurant business, just trying to give people a chance to try it.”
Moore said the family’s ranch would continue to focus on a quality, sustainable product as well as minimal product waste and a fun variety of bison-themed items for their Shady Cove store.
“We try to go nose-to-tail and use every part of the animal we possibly can. We have customers who use bones for stock, and you can even grill the marrow bones. We make pet food, too,” added Moore.
“We send the hides to Montana to get tanned.”
Long term, Moore said, the ranch could have a presence at regional farmers’ markets or offer tours. The site of the woolly giants grazing on green hillsides, Moore admits, is a pretty cool sight to behold.“
After they come down to eat, they just go up into the hills, and you can’t even really see them. It’s like gorillas in the mist, but ‘bison in the trees.’ They all kind of move up, slowly, one by one, and disappear into the trees,” she said.
“They’re really an amazing animal.”
Bison Junction is located at 20300 Crater Lake Highway in Shady Cove.
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at email@example.com.