Minnesota bison rancher talks tools of the trade

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

The man from Esko, Minnesota, breeds and sells the animals through his business, Quartermaster Buffalo.

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

A bison pushes its snout through the fence Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at the Quartermaster Buffalo farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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“The buffaloes 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 has 19 and 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 his friends and family.


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

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

“He’s 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.

That day, she cleared the grass, twigs, and alders from under their 4 mile fence.

“It’s about making sure that everything is going well and safe and that dad doesn’t feel like he’s doing it on his own,” she said.

Don Solwold grew up in western Minnesota. During his military service, he moved his family from Montana to Esko in 1973. He had been raising bison for 20 years, but purchased the 100 acres with the intention of expanding.

Solwold planned on having to head west to buy some bison, but was pleasantly surprised that the farthest he had to go was 2 miles on the road to Buffalo House.


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

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

Initially he read everything he could find, but there was not much on the subject of animal husbandry. But, he grew up in a farming community and relied on his experience with cattle. “They answered my learning curve, they survived,” Solwold said.

And him too.

Solwold was charged once with his herd and once with the herd of another breeder.

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


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

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

Bison are easy to read. Their tails go up when they sense danger. They won’t charge unless they feel threatened or cornered and try to run away. If you give them a way out, they’ll take it, he said.

As a safety measure, Solwold will take a stick with him. They will do anything to protect their eyes, so if the need arises, 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 and a half away.
  • Their fur is thick and traps a lot of air, allowing them to withstand temperatures of 40 below zero.
  • Bison do not like to be petted and touching 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.

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

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

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

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

“You are taken in the confidence of this large animal which owes you nothing. … I can go with him and I can give him a hug and he doesn’t object. It is an experience that I have never had with another animal.

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

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

At the time, the way beef was processed was the subject of much criticism. So they added a bison burger to their menu, said Tom Hanson, co-owner of Duluth Grill, Corktown Deli and Brews and OMC Smokehouse.


Don Solwold, of Esko, cooks bison burgers on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko.  Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Don Solwold, of Esko, cooks bison burgers on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Bison made up about 30% of their hamburger sales. The adventurers were excited to try it out and they were able to increase sales for many small farmers, Hanson recalls.

Of Solwold, Hanson said: “I knew him in his late sixties. He would get in his truck, and he would be the first guy to load crates.

“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 who work together, ”said Hanson.

When asked about the name of the company, Solwold said that in the military, the Quartermaster Officer provides supplies and support to soldiers.

“I discovered that teaching crews is the same as teaching buffaloes,” he said.


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

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

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

Solwold will be 89 in February. He has thought about raising these animals for almost half of his life.

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

“If there is one species that has the right to trust no one, it is the buffalo. This is probably what attracts me to them. It is a noble animal.

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


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

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


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

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


Don Solwold, of Esko, moves feed buckets while taking care of his bison on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko.  Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Don Solwold, of Esko, moves feed buckets while taking care of his bison on Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at Quartermaster Buffalo Farm in Esko. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune


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

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


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