A Head for Business
CALS alum launches new business
Cody Bumgarner was destined to be an entrepreneur. He started his first business at age 11, raising and selling swine to local 4-H and FFA youth in Fruitland. Now the University of Idaho graduate has launched his newest enterprise — Idaho Bison, a retail and wholesale bison meat company.
After running his swine business for seven years, Bumgarner purchased a 10-wheel dump truck and began his second business as a contract hauler. He has since built that business to include four trucks and hauls corn silage and sugar beets.
“I can’t remember the first thing I started trying to make money on, but it’s always been my mindset to do my own thing and try to make money,” he said. “I grew up doing a bunch of small businesses and they all had to do with ag.”
An Idea is Born
After graduating high school, Bumgarner decided to attend the University of Idaho to gain more business skills, knowing that he wanted to continue running his own businesses. He received a degree in agricultural economics: agribusiness emphasis from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2018.
It was at U of I that the idea for Idaho Bison was born. Bumgarner was visiting his friend Chase Shoemaker, who owned around 40 bison at the time, when Shoemaker needed to make a delivery of meat to a customer.
“We threw 5 to 10 pounds of bison in a box and it didn’t look like much to me and then he came back and put a $100 bill on the freezer,” Bumgarner said. “In my mind I was thinking, for the amount of product we just packaged compared to the money he got, that seems like a really good deal on the producer side. At that point I started asking questions and learning more about bison.”
During his senior year at U of I, Bumgarner took the idea for Idaho Bison into an entrepreneurship class where he and fellow students drafted a business plan. U of I College of Business and Economics Instructor George Tanner helped Bumgarner come up with the company name and the group participated in the Idaho Pitch and Business Plan competitions.
Those experiences helped lay the foundation for Bumgarner to launch Idaho Bison in 2020.
“The entrepreneurship classes I took really gave birth to this idea so I have to give credit to that,” he said.
In all his agricultural business ventures, Bumgarner has strived to look at the whole picture, from producer to consumer concerns. With bison he has found a product that can make money for a producer, while addressing environmental issues often raised in regard to livestock.
“I did a lot of research and figured out that bison is kind of nature’s beast,” Bumgarner said. “I know with cattle ranching you need a lot of ground and you need a lot of livestock but with bison you can get a few bison, a little bit of ground and you can maximize utilization out of a small amount. The rumen in bison is super-efficient — they utilize the feed source in a better manner. Then when it comes to the sale side, its kind of a unique, niche product so you can charge a premium.”
Bumgarner is based in Lewiston but runs his bison with Shoemaker Bison Ranch in New Plymouth in order to reduce costs related to land and facilities — costs that would make it nearly impossible for Bumgarner to start his business from the ground up.
“I’m building my herd within his to cut down on costs upfront — facility costs, land costs,” Bumgarner said. “I’m focusing my money into marketing and building my livestock numbers.”
Bumgarner buys wholesale from Shoemaker Bison then markets the product under Idaho Bison. He supplies product to a few restaurants, but most sales are to private customers. The challenge now is convincing customers to give bison a try — something that maybe they’ve never tasted before.
“Bison is super lean so when you cook it right the fat cooks down and you’re left with a super lean, healthy product,” he said. “I have good feedback once I get my product to the consumer. Usually they come right back as repeat customers.”
Bumgarner hopes to expand sales into the Moscow area in 2021 as he continues to build his herd. To order from Idaho Bison, visit www.idahobisonranch.com.
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos provided by Cody Bumgarner
Published in September 2020