Home Cover Sustaining Tradition: Metzger’s Meats – A tale of Family, Farming and Bison.

Sustaining Tradition: Metzger’s Meats – A tale of Family, Farming and Bison.

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by Edward Black

If you ask anyone in Texas or a surrounding state what they know about Canton, Texas, you’re almost guaranteed to hear the words “First Monday.” The small town between Dallas and Tyler has long been known for its famous monthly flea market. But if Cookie Morkel-Kuntzman has her way, it will soon be known for something else as well: The home of the best bison meat you can buy.

I arranged to meet Cookie at her farm for a quick interview and tour on a Friday afternoon. The weather was perfect, which is a rare occasion in East Texas. As I drove down the country roads about eight miles outside of Canton, I was immediately taken back to scenes from my childhood, which took place about 30 miles west of here in Terrell.

Driving along the twisting, pot-holed road, I spotted a small field with square bales of hay lying about. It brought to mind the time, as a teen, I was suckered into “throwing bales” with some friends to earn some money. The only thing I earned were fire ant bites all over my hands and arms because the bales had been sitting in the field too long. Lesson learned.

Cookie’s venture, “Metzger’s Meats,” combines a rich family history with a passion for farming and ranching. It allows her to offer the East Texas community a locally grown taste of the American Bison. For the average consumer, running down to the local grocery store and grabbing a pound of bison for some burgers just isn’t a reality. But for the people of Canton, Texas, that reality is much closer, thanks to the Metzger Farm.

Cookie’s family roots in Canton run deep. When she was two years old, her family packed up their home in South Africa, where she was born, and headed to their family farm 8,877 miles away. It’s a place that would shape her upbringing and, ultimately, her future. The farm has always been home to a diverse menagerie, thanks to her Uncle David Metzger’s fascination with exotic animals. After his passing in 2009, Cookie and her mother, Nan Morkel, took on the responsibility of caring for the animals he left behind.

The Metzger name carries a legacy of its own. In the late 1800s, Cookie’s great-great-grandfather pioneered “Metzger’s Milk.” He opened a dairy in Dallas that was passed down through the family until it was sold to Borden in the early 1980s. Cookie informed me that the name Metzger is an occupational surname meaning “butcher,” which, she says, felt fitting for her new venture. Today, the Metzger farm stands as a testament to the dedication of past generations.

For about ten years after her uncle’s passing, not much changed on the farm, with the bison herd staying at around fifteen head. In 2018, Cookie narrowed her focus to raising the larger animals and decided to rehome the others. She went to work and found homes on other ranches and farms for the exotic deer, antelope, and other various hoofstock.

In 2019, she decided to expand the herd so she could begin processing and selling bison meat to the public. This marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Cookie and the Metzger farm. Her vision was clear to provide the community with bison meat of unparalleled quality, and to do so in a responsible and sustainable way. This endeavor was more than just a business; it was a tribute to her family’s heritage.

Through careful acquisitions of smaller herds across Texas, they slowly expanded their herd in Canton, which now stands close to one hundred strong. Having steadfastly increased their bison 

numbers has allowed Cookie to pursue her dream of providing nutritious, locally raised bison meat to the community, with plans to continue to expand and serve a broader range of customers in the near future.

Expanding the herd, however, predictably brought forth new challenges. Working with these large, powerful animals is a little different than working with cattle. A mature bison cow stands around 5 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds, while a Bison bull can reach staggering sizes, with heights of over 6 feet, a length of 10 feet, and can exceed 2,000 pounds, with reports of them growing to much larger sizes.

Bison require a more extensive infrastructure and space than cattle typically do. Cookie explains that, up until now, they have been able to get by using the equipment and corrals they previously had in place for Longhorn cattle. However, with the planned production increase, it was time for an upgrade. As I put pen to paper for this article (well, fingers to keyboard anyway), a larger, more extensive processing facility is currently under construction on the Metzger Farm to accommodate the expanding herd.

As with any farm and ranch, the upkeep of the property’s fencing is a never-ending project. Bison naturally tend to keep moving while grazing, and if a fence gets in the way, the enormous creatures can easily make their way through the largely ornamental barriers. If, for some reason, a bison can’t go through the fence, he will simply go over it. An adult bison bull can make a standing six-foot jump should they choose to do so.

To help alleviate this problem on the Metzger Ranch, higher and sturdier fencing has been installed in strategic areas where the bison are more likely to apply pressure. The best way to keep bison inside a fence, however, is to make them not want to be on the outside in the first place. As I look out across the land that this herd has available to them, it is apparent that Cookie and the Metzger Farm have done an excellent job of that. Being so near to these animals has made me understand an old saying among bison ranchers; “You can get a bison to go anywhere it wants to go.”

Fencing is also crucial to sustainable management, which is at the heart of the farming and ranching philosophy of Cookie and her family. She explains, “Rotational grazing is what we strive for, as that best mimics bison’s natural instinct to keep moving as they graze. This ensures the health of both the herd and the land. We have a few large pastures that our bison can rotate to when it’s time to graze somewhere new.”

Bison bulls are much larger and can be more aggressive than the cows. Still, bison herds operate under a distinct matriarchal structure, forming familial units of 20-30 animals, which are led by dominant females. Although they can be highly dominant if they choose to, bison are known for their docile nature, which has even led some people to keep bison as pets.

Cookie’s personal connection with the herd is evident in her story of Cassie. She explained that a few years ago, one of their older bison cows surprised them with an unexpected calf. After a couple of weeks, the newborn was struggling and not thriving like she should have been. The decision was made to give the little one some extra care, and Cookie took the calf in and bottle-fed her until she was old enough to join the rest of the herd.

With Cookie’s help, Cassie is now a thriving member of the herd and has given birth to several calves of her own. Her journey from fragile beginnings to standing tall as a favorite member of the Metzger family herd exemplifies the resilience and heart that is behind the family, the farm, and the Metzger’s Meats philosophy.

With the convenience of the internet and online ordering, more people than ever before are expanding their diets and trying new foods. Bison meat, renowned for its rich flavor and lean profile, offers a healthy alternative to traditional meats, such as beef and chicken. It boasts 87% less fat than beef and 32% less fat than chicken. Additionally, bison provides essential nutrients, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc.

Bison meat is a complete protein source that delivers all 20 necessary amino acids, further underscoring its nutritional value. In fact, bison is such a lean and healthy protein that Cookie and her Metzger’s Meats were recently asked to be a part of the nutritional workshop at a Canton gym to serve as a local source of lean meat for their program. Not to mention, the meat is just really darn good!

As with anything that’s out there these days, the consumer should use caution when ordering that incredible Bison Ribeye. The US market is facing an influx of meat labeled as “Buffalo” that is not bison meat. As Texans, we grew up calling a bison a “buffalo.” No one ever called them bison, at least, nobody I ever came across anyway; it’s always been a thrill to see a “Buffalo” in a pasture alongside the highway. That practice is what could cause someone to buy “Buffalo Meat” and expect it to be bison meat. It’s not.

“Buffalo Meat” is almost always meat from Water Buffalo, not bison. As is the case in most schemes that take advantage of consumers such as this, an unnecessary law tucked away in a file somewhere is at the heart of it. According to the National Bison Association:

“The water buffalo is being brought into the United States as whole muscle meat and reprocessed in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved facility but is not being processed under USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) voluntary inspection. USDA regulations require any water buffalo processed under its inspection services to be properly and fully labeled. Because water buffalo is classified as a nonamenable species under federal law, it is not required to undergo inspection if that meat is produced in an FDA-approved facility.”      Via National Bison Association’s “Don’t be Buffaloed Fact Sheet”

In 2021, to combat this disturbing trend, lawmakers introduced 

the Truth in Buffalo Labeling Act. However, it is yet to be passed into law, which would require all water buffalo meat to be labeled as precisely that. Consumers should always check the label to know what they are ordering. Well, unless you just like water buffalo chili, in that case, who cares about the label? Order away!

Bison aren’t the only big animals on the Metzger farm.In addition to bison, the ranch boasts a separate group of extraordinary residents, Camels. These magnificent ungulates are the foundation for Cookie’s second venture, aptly named “Cookie’s Camels.” While managing a herd of bison, each one weighing the equivalent of a small car, might be enough of a livelihood for most people, Cookie Morkel-Kuntzman is not like most people. I get the sense from just being around her for a short time that she is an incredibly driven woman who can handle herself in any arena.

When production companies, churches, or other customers need the presence of a live camel in this part of Texas, Cookie is a go-to resource, thanks to the farm’s caravan of eight Arabian Camels. Arabian Camels are also known as Dromedary Camels due to their distinctive single hump (Camels with two humps are known as Bactrian Camels or Mongolian Camels). If you have attended a Christmas production or a live nativity scene in the Northeast Texas area in the last few years, you may have seen Cookie’s Camels at work.

On the farm, the camels live separately from the bison for their safety. A bison’s horns can cause serious injury to the camels, even if there is no intent to harm them. Cassie, the bottle-raised calf, lived with the camels and horses for a time but had to be moved when she started showing a little too much loving attention to a pregnant camel’s belly.

Out of a sense of caution, Cassie and her best friend, a goat, were moved to a different pasture. Once the newborn member of the camel family was old enough to walk, she was introduced to Cassie, who Cookie says was so excited by the new addition that she kept giving her new friend kisses through the fence.

As I wrapped up my tour of the beautiful homestead, it came to me that the Metzger Farm is no ordinary farm, nor are Cookie and her family ordinary farmers and ranchers. There’s a legacy in the land. A history in the barns and corrals that you can feel. Driving back down the long driveway back to the gate, I look out over a broad, open field of Coastal Bermuda grass that slowly makes its way down to a picturesque lake at the bottom of a small valley. I can’t help but think that I’m looking down on a scene exactly as it would have appeared through the eyes of Cookie’s great-great-grandfather all those years before.

It’s a surreal feeling that brings a great sense of nostalgia to me. I miss running around on farms like I did as a kid. Although, you can bet if I could go back, I wouldn’t be dumb enough to agree to throw fire ant-filled bales of hay for a quarter apiece again!

Cookie Morkel-Kuntzman invites the community to savor the fruits of her and her family’s labor, one tender bison cut at a time. To experience the bounty of Metzger’s Meats for yourself, visit their Square site (https://Metzgers-meats.square.site) or contact Cookie directly through the Metzger’s Meats Facebook page.

TEN FACTS ABOUT BISON.

Bison may be enormous, but they’re also fast. They can run up to 35 miles per hour.

They are incredibly agile. They can spin around quickly and jump high fences.

They are strong swimmers.

The average lifespan for a bison is 10–20 years, but some live to be older.

Cows begin breeding at age two and only have one calf yearly.

The prime breeding age for males is six to 10 years.

Bison can grow to over 10 feet long.

The bison herd in Yellowstone National Park is the largest in America, with a population of about 5,000 to 6,000 bison.

Both male and female bison grow horns.

You SHOULD NOT pet one at Yellowstone Park or anywhere else!

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