Damen leads bison charge
IT MAY not be on the menu at your favourite steakhouse at the moment, but Damen Wells is hoping the ultra-lean bison meat he is growing on his property at Myrtle Creek, south of Casino, will one day be a highly sought-after source of red meat.
According to a Canadian study, bison is the leanest form of meat in the world, with just 2.4g of fat per 100g, compared with 8g per 100g for beef.
"It's also low in carbs and calories and high in protein, iron and B12," Mr Wells said.
After starting in 2009 with just 11 animals, including one bull, Mr Wells has grown his herd to 32, and one day hopes to supply breeding stock and meat to the growing market.
Mr Wells, 32, doesn't come from a farming family. He grew up in Brisbane and became a carpenter.
But after a few years in the trade he and his wife, Shannon, decided to buy what Mr Wells calls some "real Australian bush" - 477.5ha (1180 acres) predominantly covered in melaleuca and red gum, with 2.5km of creek frontage.
"I really liked the idea of a blank canvas where I could do and build whatever I wanted," he said.
Somewhere along the way he got the bug for bison and went to the United States to learn about farming them.
Although he does have some cattle (Brafords), he says there are several advantages to farming bison.
"They breed longer and quicker, they're hardier, they eat more species of grass and have a more efficient digestive system and because they stay tight as a group, they don't over-graze," he said.
Mr Wells founded the American Bison Association of Australia which links other breeders to keep records of bloodlines and where they are in Australia.
He estimates there are only about 500 bison in Australia, including several in zoos.
Mr Wells has a new bull arriving from Dubbo Zoo in coming weeks.
In the US, the bison business is booming, with 350,000 animals being farmed and another 150,000 in the wild.
But bison was nearly hunted to extinction, with only 750-1500 estimated to have been left at the end of the 19th century. One hundred years earlier, the population is believed to have peaked somewhere between 50-70 million.
To supplement their farming activities, the Wells also have tourism facilities including four teepees and other camping sites available, plus a nine-hole mini-golf course, canoes, quad bikes, a swimming pool and tours available in his amphibious Argo - a four-wheel-drive that floats.
For more information about the Wells' bison and accommodation, visit www.aranyani bison.com.