About seven years ago, Jason and Erin Boily were looking for a unique business opportunity that they could run as a family.
As it turned out, they didn’t have to look far.
“We found a deep connection to bison due to our Indigenous heritage,” he says. “Eventually, we bought 145 acres of land from my uncle that was about 20 minutes from Winnipeg off the Trans Canada highway.”
Turns out, it wasn’t just any ordinary acreage.
“It was actually my grandfather’s land,” says Jason. “We cleared it, and then brought in 20 animals. We started everything more or less from scratch.”
Thus, Iron Head Bison Ranch was born.
Today, the ranch has expanded from its initial 145 acres to 500 with seven different pastures and a handling facility.
“When we started, neither of us had much experience, though we both came from farming backgrounds and enjoyed the nutritional values that came with eating the meat,” says Erin. “Even though everything was new to us, we had a vision.”
That vision was to utilize the bison the same way their Indigenous ancestors had.
“We wanted to honour our calling,” adds Jason. “Doing things the right way was very important to us – to be true to ourselves, the animal and everything else. According to tradition, we use the whole animal from the tip of the tail to the tongue.”
Now, Iron Head Bison offers over 50 meat products and seven different leather products, including moccasins and gloves.
Jason emphasizes that everything is done the right way, which is to say it is done organically.
“This is not a feedlot-style operation – the bison are grass-fed, and aren’t fed any antibiotics. The bison play and feed on 80 to 100 acres of land at a time, regenerating it as they roam. In fact, throughout the land’s history here, it’s never been sprayed or touched.”
He adds that the biggest challenge is getting Iron Head Bison’s name on the radar of consumers.
“The hardest part of our business right now is letting people know who we are, and generating greater awareness of our product. Not only do we have 50 meat products – we make an amazing bison pepperoni – but we’re also going to roll out a bone broth with another Winnipeg company. We’re also reaching out to different businesses to make them aware of our product.”
Although building the business has been hard work – the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly challenging – Iron Head Bison Ranch is steadily gathering momentum.
“Honestly, we didn’t think we’d see where we are today five years ago,” Jason says, adding that Erin does an amazing job of overseeing the operation. “It’s been a long, difficult road, but we believe the ranch is an important thing to build – a high quality natural meat source that’s healthy, delicious, and produced the right way.”
Erin adds that all the hard work has been worth it.
“We’re thrilled to have been able to bring bison back to our Metis homeland,” she says, adding that their kids help out on a daily basis. “It’s been quite the journey, but it’s been so worthwhile.”