The effect of finishing strategy and "terroir" on the phytochemical richness of bison meat in Western rangelands

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2024: $29,968.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2027
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stephan van Vliet
Utah State University


  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal abstract:

    With rising concerns regarding the effects of red meat production
    on human and environmental health, a growing number of producers
    are exploring ways to improve livestock production methods.
    Studies highlight ecosystem benefits of bison's rotational
    grazing, but the nutritional impact on meat remains unclear. As
    the adoption of more sustainable ranching practices is ultimately
    dependent on consumers' interest in healthy products, having
    information on the impact of different finishing practices is

    The goal of this project is to study the impact
    of finishing practices (grass and grain) and “terroir”
    (geographical location) on the nutritional composition of bison
    meat. We will collect forage/feed and meat samples from three
    Western bison ranches (two in MT and one in NM) that are using
    rotational grazing practices. Meat samples will be profiled for
    nutritional composition using metabolomics approaches and
    compared to grain-finished bison from an MT ranch as a control.
    Our focus is on grass-finishing of bison on polyculture pastures,
    a method that promises multiple ecosystem benefits but is
    currently underutilized in the industry. We hypothesize that
    rotationally grazing and finishing bison on polyculture pastures
    in Western Rangelands will improve the nutritional composition of
    bison meat, including fatty acid, vitamin/minerals, and
    phytochemical profile.

    With the bison industry's revenue surpassing $340 million and
    having expected continued yearly growth, the project's goal is
    timely. We will disseminate our research through national
    association meetings and field demonstrations to bison farmers,
    aiming to convert scientific research into practical, actionable,
    and sustainable farming practices.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Fig. 1

    Fig.1. Graphical abstract of the proposed study.

    To achieve the project goal, outlined above in the summary, we
    will pursue the following specific objectives:

    Objective 1: Assess the differences in
    metabolomic profiles of forage,
    including the range and concentration of phytochemicals,
    vitamins, fatty acids and minerals, consumed by bison in
    pasture-finished systems compared to those in a standard
    grain-based pen-finished system.

    Hypothesis: The forage consumed by pasture-finished
    bison will display a more complex metabolomic profile with higher
    levels of phytochemicals, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and
    minerals than the forage from a grain-based pen-finished system.

    Objective 2: Quantitatively assess the
    concentrations of phytochemicals, vitamins, fatty acids and
    minerals in meat from grass-fed bison
    across four regional systems, in comparison to those in meat from
    a pen-finished bison system, utilizing advanced analytical

    Hypothesis: Dietary variation will result in grass-fed
    bison having superior mineral, vitamin, fatty acid and
    phytochemical profiles compared to pen-finished bison

    Objective 3: Investigate the impact of
    ecoregion-specific factors ('terroir')
    on the nutritional composition and phytochemical diversity in
    pasture-finished bison meat from distinct ranch locations,
    including Vermejo Park Ranch, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, NM;
    Flying D Ranch, West Yellowstone, MT; and North Bridger Bison
    Ranch, Shields Valley, MT.

    Hypothesis: Bison meat from different ecoregions will
    display distinct nutritional and phytochemical profiles,
    influenced by the unique terroir of each ranch location.

    The primary expected outcome of this research project is that the
    phytochemical, vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid profile of bison
    meat is significantly influenced by the finishing
    and the geographic location of
    . Simultaneously, this knowledge will pave
    the way for the development of strategic marketing
    tailored to bison meat products, particularly
    those that have undergone grass-finishing. Although this project
    is centered in Western states, its applicability extends far
    beyond geographical boundaries and holds the potential for
    scalability throughout the entire North Central Region/Mid-West
    Region where bison ranching is common.

    Our work will provide an initial critical—and as of yet
    unstudied—link between finishing practices and location
    (“terroir” ) on the nutrient density of bison meat. Without
    knowledge on how grazing practices impacts the healthfulness of
    bison meat
    incentives that promote good land stewardship will not
    reach full potential, as efforts towards making livestock
    production more sustainable is ultimately dependent on consumer
    demand for a healthful product. Similarly, we anticipate that
    gaining more knowledge on how different ecoregions (“terroir”)
    impact the nutritional quality of bison meat, will help local
    producers with marketing their products to consumers.

    Educational objectives:

    1. Publish research findings in academic journals detailing the
      comparative phytochemical richness of bison meat from
      grass-finished and grain-finished groups.
    2. Develop an updated and more comprehensive nutritional profile
      of bison meat influenced by finishing systems, which will be
      shared with producers through the National Bison Assocation and
      Turner Ranches Summer Meeting.
    3. Organize field days with the participating ranchers to
      facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge to enable ranchers to select
      finishing systems that yield the most optimally nutrient-dense
      bison meat products for human consumption.
    4. Equip ranchers with newfound knowledge to market bison meat
      based on its nutrient density and the chosen finishing system,
      thereby meeting the evolving demands of consumers seeking
      high-quality, health-conscious food choices.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.