Federal guidelines were written for the cattle industry, but apply to the processing of all types of meats. And, in Indian Country - where the buffalo is regarded as sacred for its cultural and nutritional values - policy creates challenges.

Traditionally, buffalo provided Plains Indians with all their basic needs: food, clothing and shelter. Buffalo were killed, butchered in the field, and meat, hide and all other parts brought back to camp. The hide was used for clothing and shelter, meat either eaten or dried to save for later, and animal parts like horns and bones used for utensils and weapons.

Today, Native communities still prefer a traditional field kill; it’s considered more humane and is less expensive than taking live animals to market.

  • Buffalo are social animals, don’t like to be separated from herd
  • Riding in a trailer to a slaughter house causes enormous stress
  • Few slaughter houses exist for buffalo; cattle facilities can’t safely accommodate larger animals
  • Most buffalo raised by tribes are located in remote areas, away from slaughter facilities

But, policy makes field kills impossible. Ways tribes have tried to get around that:

  • Oglala Sioux Tribe uses state inspections and cites tremendous patience required for navigating the system.
  • Cheyenne River Tribe developed a mobile slaughter unit to process animals in the field (as long as the meat being used for tribal purposes and not sold, no inspections were required). However, the unit is no longer in use.
  • Individual ranchers often sell live buffalo to individuals, who take responsibility for killing and processing.