Bison meat is another name for buffalo meat. While bison is technically correct, the two names are used interchangeably to denote a large, four-legged, horned animal, usually brown in color, and similar to an ox or a cow. These animals have shaggy hair that forms a mane on their neck and a hump on their shoulders. Like a cow, they eat grass, leaves, and shrubs. Then they regurgitate what they have swallowed — called a cud — and chew it, which classifies them as a ruminant.
Meat from the buffalo is very lean and has become popular in supermarkets. It contains far fewer calories and cholesterol than either beef or chicken. Bison contains 2.42 grams fat, 143 calories, and 82 mg of cholesterol per 100 grams of cooked meat. By comparison, beef has 9.28 g fat, 211 calories, and 86 g cholesterol. Skinless chicken contains 7.41 g fat, 190 calories, and 89 mg of cholesterol.
French explorers arriving in America in the 17th century discovered huge herds of the animals that covered the plains as far as the eye could see. The French dubbed them "les bouefs" meaning oxen. The pronunciation grew distorted when the English arrived and eventually corrupted into buffalo.
Bison are quite large and very strong. Adult males, known as bulls, can reach 2,000 pounds (900 kg), and females, known as cows, up to 1,100 pounds (500 kg). Despite their size, they can run at speeds of 30 miles an hour (50 kilometers per hour). The calves usually weigh 25 to 30 pounds (11 to 13 kilograms) at birth and are up and ready to run with their mothers within an hour or so. Within six months, females will reach 350 lbs (160 kg), and males, 425 lbs (190 kg). They are usually weaned at six months of age.
Females will breed for the first time at around the age of two; gestation requires 9.5 months. Females usually live 20 to 25 years and can have a calf a year. Twins are very rare. Cows usually calve from mid-April through June.
Buffalo have coarse guard hairs and soft, woolly undercoats that enable them to withstand the coldest winters. When they sense danger, they will form a circle with cows and calves at the center, bulls on the outside. While these animals can be trained, they are not domesticated animals and should never be treated as such. It is always best to treat them with caution.
Hunted almost to extinction for their hides in the 1800s, bison have made a comeback. There are almost 400,000 in North America today. Yellowstone Park supports 3,500 bison, making it home to the world's largest free-roaming population.
Because they supplied so much to Native American tribes, including food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, bison have long been an important part of Native American culture. They also appear in many of their creation myths and are an important part of Native mythology. Today, many tribes raise these animals and sell bison meat as a money-making venture.
Native American prophecy says that the birth of a white buffalo will herald a new era of peace and prosperity in the world. One pure white calf was born in Wisconsin in 1994. The first of her kind for generations, she was named "Miracle." She has since turned brown.