Area buffalo rancher Garrett Brown – a third-generation bison producer – will step into an international arena in November when he travels to Canada to judge the big animals at that nation’s bison association. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

VALE – Shania. Like, as in Shania Twain. That was what Garrett Brown named the first bison he ever picked out when he was 7. 

He bought Shania from among his mother and father’s heifer calves, and now at age 29, he has built a name for himself raising and judging one of North America’s most iconic animals.  

“And being a 7-year-old kid, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. And so I actually didn’t even pick the biggest heifer in the group,” Brown recalled with a grin. “I picked the one that I thought was cute. And so that was what I went with.”  

Garrett is a third generation bison producer after his father and grandfather, and come November, he will be judging bison at the Canadian National for the Canadian Bison Association.

The judging will take place at the 2019 Canadian Western Agribition, an agribusiness trade show in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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Brown graduated from Vale High School and he and his wife K’Dean Brown live outside of Nyssa. 

In the past, Brown judged bison at the Western Bison Association in Ogden, Utah.

Five years ago, Brown was on an expert panel at the National Bison Association show in Denver, and was the youngest judge in the association’s history.  

Brown has been raising bison on Brown’s Buffalo Ranch, his family ranch, for 22 years, and between him and his wife and his parents, they are running 450 bison. 

Brown was at the Malheur County Fair cooking up bison burgers for hungry fairgoers interested in something a bit different. 

The Browns have been running the cook wagon at the fair since the early 90s, and he and his wife have been running it for the past six years. 

Brown said that there is a lot that goes into judging a bison, and that when it comes to breeding them, the goal is to maintain the features associated with their nature as migratory grazers. 

For example, Brown said, “the biggest thing that people notice with them is, they always think that they’re sloped compared to a beef cow, as far as sloped from the top-most point. And that’s actually for calving ease.”

“And so there has to be a little bit of a slope to them, but not a peak, basically.”

One difference between bison and beef cattle, Brown said, is that bison are far more resistant to harsher, colder environments, and are more likely to survive in dangerous weather conditions. 

For example, bison are also judged, Brown said, by the depth of the front shoulders as well as their hump, which serves as a natural mechanism for shaking off snow during the winter.  

In Canada, Brown will judge the bison brought to the show by the top producers. 

Brown said that the difference between American bison and those in Canada is that Canadian bison are taller and built more for the deep snow. 

Brown is also a consultant for people in the bison business who are having issues raising the animals. Brown said that these individuals reach out to him and then he will physically go to them and show “them through the process of what they should be doing, what needs to be done differently, and help them out that way,” he said.  

From the age of about 9 to 14, Brown went to the Northwest Bison Association and Western Bison Association show and sales and was involved in junior judging where he would go around with the judges and see how it is done. 

Brown met a lot of people in the industry at a very young age, and then he started showing animals of his own and eventually, in 2003, won the grand champion heifer at the Northwest Bison Association.

Brown’s wife, K’Dean Brown, a nurse, is the executive director of Heart and Home Hospice and Palliative Care in Emmett, Idaho. 

K’Dean Brown will travel with her husband to Canada, and Brown said that his wife is supportive and in addition to being fond of the animals, she is always willing to help out.

“And she does a really great job. It’s always nice when you get somebody that’s willing to jump in there, especially with these animals,” Brown said. 

Brown added that one thing he enjoys about raising bison is that “they have a personality all to their own.” 

“They’re fun to be around most of the time,” Brown said. But, sometimes, he added, “when you’re working them in the corrals, that’s when you can really tell…”

Have a news tip? Reporter Joe Siess: joesiess.malheurenterprise@gmail.com or 541-473-3377.

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