CANTON, Ohio — The future is the only thing on the minds of the Schnabel family, owners and operators of Arrowhead Buffalo Ranch in Canton, Ohio.
Dustin Schnabel, 24, ranch manager, believes the future lies in the hands of technology, and boasts that everything Arrowhead is genetically and technically modern.
“Technology is the future, and we’re going right along with it,” said Dustin.
Under the study of Dustin’s brother Bobby, 28, breeding consultant, the Arrowhead buffalo are the most researched private herd in the world. Bobby Schnabel is completing his doctorate in molecular genetics, specializing in bison genetics at Texas A&M.
Not only are the animals registered with the North American Bison Registry, but Arrowhead buffalo are independently DNA typed to verify the pedigrees. This testing shows customers they are buying performance animals.
Bobby has developed a DNA-based parentage test and his research was published in Animal Genetics. Arrowhead also uses a more scientific method of purity testing than required by the North American Bison Association. The test helped the Schnabels determine a registered cow they purchased actually had beef cattle genetics.
“I think it’s safe to say that we are the world leader in buffalo genetics,” said Dustin. “Because we can prove the parentage, and sibs and half-sibs for all of our animals, our buyers know they are buying animals that perform, whether it’s breeding stock or producing meat. And they know that they are getting buffalo and not beefalo.”
The Schnabels have kicked around the idea of creating the Arrowhead Lab, where they could continue to perform more studies on their herd once Bobby completes his degree next year.
Buffalo producers are utilizing artificial insemination, but only at marginal success rates, and embryo transfer has yet been unachievable, according to Dustin.
And, for the most part, Arrowhead buffalo are even fed genetically modified grass. The Schnabels utilize intensive rotational grazing on their near 100-acre ranch in Stark County. They use cool season and warm season grass. The cool season grass is a mix of BG34 perennial rye, Barliza timothy and TF33 tall fescue. The warm season is a native grass called switchgrass.
The buffalo are kept on grass for about 8-1/2 months, usually from March to about November. Then they are moved to dry lots where they get hay and grain.
“Buffalo are low-maintence. These animals are never in a barn,” said Dustin. “They are really easy to care for. Getting into this business is very cost-effective.”
Dustin believes this is the perfect time for dairy farmers to get into the buffalo industry. Getting started costs very little, but profits and fringe benefits are high, said Dustin.
The proof can be found in the numbers. In 1990, there were less than 200 buffalo in the United States. Currently, there are well over 300,000.
Though he admits prices for breeding stock are down right now, the demand for market ready bulls is still strong. In 1998, the price of a bred cow was about $4,500, but now it is between $2,500-$3,000. However, consumers are buying meat bull calves at $1.40 to $1.50 per pound.
“Dairy farmers go out and work their tail off every day and they get nothing. They never take vacation because their jobs are 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year,” said Dustin. “I can afford to take at least a month in the winter to vacation.”
An annual buffalo sale held in November in Mercer, Pa., provides newcomers to the business with a good chance to purchase animals. Dustin works closely with Mercer Livestock Auction and the Pennsylvania Bison Association for the show. He works on all of the promotions for the sale and says it’s the largest buffalo sale in the area.
The Schnabels got started in 1990, when Dustin and Bobby’s father, Bob, had a high cholesterol count and was told to watch what he ate. Bob is in the fitness equipment business and one of his contacts told him about the leanness of buffalo meat. The family became interested and bought five yearling cows and one yearling bull. Arrowhead’s numbers are now at 120 animals.
The ranch quickly grew from a hobby farm to a decent-size business, Dustin said.
On average, buffalo is 76 percent leaner than beef. According to USDA testing, in a sample of 100 grams of cooked lean meat, buffalo contains 2.42 grams of fat, 143 calories, 82 milligrams of cholesterol and .91 grams of saturated fat. Beef has 9.91 grams of fat, 216 calories, 86 milligrams of cholesterol and 3.79 grams of saturated fat.
Arrowhead doesn’t have much of a local market for buffalo meat, but its online sales are tremendous, Dustin said. Arrowhead ships meat all over the country.
“The buffalo industry caters to a high-end market. Buffalo meat is priced substantially higher than beef,” said Dustin. “There isn’t enough supply to meet demand.”
Arrowhead has tried many marketing techniques, but none have worked nearly as well as the Internet. Arrowhead Buffalo Ranch sold meat for a short time at a Giant Eagle, but profits were not good. However, Dustin is optimistic and says that with better marketing strategies, he hopes to sell meat at all of Giant Eagle’s 180 stores.
The Schnabels created a half-hour infomercial and test marketed it in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and Dallas. It was met with meager success, and plans for further airing of the infomercial have been put on hold. Arrowhead has even been featured on QVC, but a poor lineup caused second-rate viewer response.
The official Web site for Arrowhead is www.arrowheadsteaks.com. There you can order meat, learn about Arrowhead and get recipes, among other things. Dustin is currently working to improve the site.
“Very few buffalo ranches are set up for e-commerce. We have the opportunity to be ‘the source’ for buffalo meat and information,” said Dustin.
“Recipes are the second most popular items searched for on the Web. My goal is to list well over 100 recipes on our site.”
Another site, www.arrowheadbuffalo.com, is purely an informational site. Arrowhead meat can also be purchased at Bob’s store, Fitness Quest Retail. The store can reached at 330-478-0257.