CAMAS PRAIRIE — A Montana bison ranch is reaching a new level of success with the launch of a new product, which hit the shelves at regional Costcos earlier this month.
Leave behind the city of Missoula and head north toward Highway 200, and watch that landscape become ranchland — an area that hasn’t changed much in some time.
That's where you will find Roam Free Ranch in Camas Prairie, where bison - America's national mammal - are raised by Brittany Masters and Job Sepp.
“It's really an American venture to be a part of raising bison, I think, for food production," Sepp told MTN News.
“You don't get into bison ranching because it's a make-money-quick scheme or because it's easy," Masters said, "if you're in bison ranching it's because you love it and it's because you have a real passion for what you're doing.”
The Roam Free operation started with just nine bison on 240 acres about 10 years ago.
“When I first started, I was just eating peanut butter and jelly just trying to make it, living in a trailer, and we've grown a lot since that time," Sepp explained.
Last year, the enterprise moved to a 3,000-acre space where about 150 head of bison roam.
“It's very satisfying to help both preserve a species and land base here in Montana," Sepp said.
Since childhood, raising bison has been a dream for Sepp.
“When I was about four years old, my parents and I were moving across the country and I ended up seeing some bison on the side of the road. And since that time, I've always wanted to raise them. I spent about nine years in the military and then as soon as I got out, I transitioned into building this bison ranch.
- Jon Sepp
Things have changed since then. Now, a whole fleet of employees and machinery help run the place, while 400 stores sell a variety of jerky products from Roam Free.
“We're to a point now where we can sustain by just ranching and selling our food products in stores which for us is a dream come true," Sepp said.
A new development is that Costco now carries an exclusive bison chili product from the ranch.
“We're the first regenerative bison ranch to be selling a ready-to-eat product in Costco," Masters said.
As of a few weeks ago, the retailer carries the product in 32 locations across Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Oregon,
“That was really satisfying to have that moment to be like, hey, a decade of work and beyond and dreaming has finally arrived us to a place where we're feeding people responsibly and we're seeing the fruition of the business that we worked a long time to build," Sepp said.
“There's nothing like seeing it on a Costco shelf," Masters said.