Esko Bison Rancher Talks Tools of the Trade – Duluth News Tribune

Don Solwold hooked his boot to his fence before climbing up and landing on the same side as his herd of bison. Several of the huge animals, also known as American bison, approached.

Rowdy, the Solwold bull, began to make a distinct sound. “He’s purring,” said Solwold, 88.

The Esko man raises and sells the animals through his company, Steward Buffalo.

And although he has been there for 47 years, he has maintained a humble outlook.

A bison pokes its snout through the fence Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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“The bison got along for hundreds of thousands of years before I came long, so they don’t need me,” he said.

At most, Solwold kept 90 at a time on his 100 acres. Today, he is 19 years old and has eight calves.

“He is very attached to them. He never wants to be without them,” said Soldwold’s daughter, Lori Franklin, of Duluth.

Solwold lives alone on the farm, but receives help from friends and family.

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A profile of a bison Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, at the Quartermaster Buffalo Farm at Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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“He is there every day. We call him ‘the bison whisperer,’” said Julie Solwold, who makes regular trips from her Los Angeles home to help out on her father’s farm.

She cleared the grass, twigs and alders under their 4 mile fence that day.

“It’s about making sure everything is okay and safe and that dad doesn’t feel like he’s doing it himself,” she said.

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Don Solwold grew up in western Minnesota. During his military service, he moved his family from Montana to Esko in 1973. He had raised bison for 20 years, but bought the 100 acres with plans to expand.
Solwold anticipated having to drive west to buy buffalo, but was pleasantly surprised that the farthest distance he had to travel was 2 miles on the road to Buffalo House.

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Don Solwold, 88, of Esko tends to his herd of bison on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Initially, he read everything he could find, but there wasn’t much on the subject of raising the animal. But, he grew up in a farming community and relied on his background with livestock. “They answered my learning curve, they survived,” Solwold said.

And him too.

Solwold was once in charge of his herd and once of another herder’s herd.

“She didn’t get me with the horn. It was the closest I got,” he said, recalling the incident.

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A bison sticks out its tongue Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Bison are easy to read. Their tail sticks up when they sense danger. They won’t charge unless they feel threatened or cornered and try to run away. If you give them an avenue, they will take it, he said.

For safety, Solwold will take a stick with him. They will do anything to protect their eyes, so if need be, hitting under the horn will make their heads spin, he said.

Other fun facts:

Bison don’t like alfalfa or clover; and they can smell molasses a mile away.

Their fur is thick and traps a lot of air, allowing them to withstand sub-zero temperatures.

Bison do not like to be petted and a touch on the head is an act of aggression. Unless you’re Solwold and Rowdy. “It’s because of the relationship. Basically, I was his mother,” Solwold said.

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Esko’s Don Solwold visits his bull, Rowdy, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at the Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Standing in her kitchen, Solwold posed for photos of the now 1,800-pound animal on the island.

“That’s the bull when he was a week old, 9 years ago. That’s him when he was 5 years old,” Solwold said with a smile.

“You are in the confidence of this big animal who owes you nothing. … I can go with him and I can hug him and he doesn’t object. It’s an experience I’ve never had with another animal.

Solwold helped start the Minnesota Bison Association in 1993; he processed and sold meat for 30 years before stopping in 2016.

Duluth Grill was among the local businesses to buy in Solwold.

At the time, there was a lot of criticism about the way the beef was processed, so they added a bison burger to their menu, recalled Tom Hanson, co-owner of Duluth Grill, Corktown Deli and Brews and OMC Smokehouse.

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Esko’s Don Solwold prepares bison burgers on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at the Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Bison accounted for about 30% of their burger sales. Adventurers were excited to try it, and they were able to boost sales for many small farmers, Hanson recalls.

Of Solwold, Hanson said: “I knew him in the late 70s. He would come in his lorry and he was the first to load boxes.

“When you deal with people locally, you cross all political lines. It keeps the socio-economic community alive, where everyone has different thoughts and beliefs, and it just brings people together working together,” Hanson said.

Asked about the name of the company, Solwold said that in the military, the quartermaster officer provides supplies and support to soldiers.

“I found that teaching crews is like teaching buffaloes,” he said.

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Part of the bison herd owned by Don Solwold, of Esko, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at the Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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After serving for 37 years, Solwold retired as an Air Force colonel.

Solwold turns 89 in February. He pondered raising these animals for nearly half his life.

“I raise them because it’s addictive, and I will raise them until the day I die,” he said.

“If there’s one species that has every right not to trust anyone, it’s the bison. That’s probably what draws me to them. It is a noble animal.

“We probably owe the bison something for the way we treated them.”

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Don Solwold, 88, of Esko, cuddles his bull, Rowdy, Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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A lone bison seen Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at the Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Esko’s Don Solwold moves buckets of feed while caring for his bison Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Don Solwold, 88, of Esko navigates a fence while tending to his herd of bison Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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Family affair: Don Solwold’s daughter, Lori Franklin, is among his five daughters participating in the 100 Acres. Check out the paint shop above Franklin’s garage, featured in the December 4 News Tribune.

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