When Edwin Tuccio, owner of North Quarter Farm and Tweeds Restaurant and Buffalo Bar, both in Riverhead, first realized one of his bison had given birth to a black calf in 2009, he was shocked. At the time, Tuccio was president of the National Bison Foundation. After making a handful of calls to other bison raisers, he realized how rare it was for a calf to be black.
Now those rarities have become almost a yearly occurrence at the farm.
“I don’t know how it happens; it just happens,” said Tuccio, who now has three newborn black calves on the farm. Two of the newest black bison were born the first week in May and a third was born Monday. “For some reason my herd throw off these very rare black bison.”
Tuccio has been in the bison business for 35 years, beginning in 1982 with two pregnant bison. He said from those two, he produced all that he has now, only buying a few bulls throughout the years.
As the owner of Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar, he supplies the East End with bison burgers and steak fresh from his farm. Tuccio did not have a precise head count, but estimated his herd is in the 200 to 300 range.
While the farm is considered small compared to some that have thousands of bison, Tuccio said he has never met anyone else who has had a black bison. He said one of his bulls must carry the gene, so he figures it’s likely more will be on the way.
The shock of the initial black calf birth has worn off and Tuccio said he views his newest rare calves as simply part of the herd, and they’ll be raised like all the others.
He said he occasionally sells some of his herd and would consider selling one of the rare black ones, although he’s unsure if it would fetch a higher price.
For him, it’s not so much about getting a high price or making money off his herd; it’s a passion.
Tuccio’s family were original settlers of Riverhead, dating back to the 1600s. His great-grandmother was the last Hallock born at the original homestead.
“Lots of Hallocks have gone off and done many things,” he said. “I kind of lost my mind along the way and decided to raise bison.” He calls bison “America’s real true meat” and he is happy for the positive reception he’s gotten throughout the years.
“Everybody wants to have their own individuality, be known for something,” he said. “I think I’ve created a local market for bison.”
While he is happy to be known for his bison steaks and as a rare breeder of black bison, he said there is one thing that would make his career complete.
“Believe me, there’s one thing that I wish,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning and look out there to see a little white one.” White bison are even more rare than the black ones, with the National Bison Association estimating that only one out of every 10 million born is white. They are even considered sacred in several Native American cultures.
Tuccio joked if that ever happened, he would sell tickets for people to see it.
“I’d be a happy farmer,” he said.