DOWN ON THE FARM
A tractor slowly pulled wagons full of tourists by fields on Sunday where Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm’s bison were grazing. In one field, a bull weighing about a ton - named Whiskey - stood chewing.
“I wanted something that had some uniqueness,” said farm owner Jack Pleasant, explaining why he started raising buffalo at the 260-acre farm in Person County during a tour of the farm.
Pleasant said the farm launched in 2001 with eight calves, and now has an approximately 115-buffalo herd. The live animals are sent to a slaughter and processing facility and the meat is sold at Triangle farmers’ markets.
The tours of the farm were held Saturday and Sunday as part of the Piedmont Farm Tour, which showcased Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm and 38 other farms in the area.
Co-sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market, the annual event can draw around 3,000 people, said Fred Broadwell, education director for the association.
The tour started 18 years ago to connect consumers with farmers, he said.
“We found that that connection had been broken, and it needed to be re-established,” he said.
This year’s tour included Granite Springs Farm in Chatham County, which is working to set up a community of farmers who live and work together on the land.
Another farm on the tour, Waterdog Farms, is a Hurdle Mills farm that’s offering flowers, produce and herbal teas.
During one of the wagon tours of Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm, Pleasant explained how the bison are caught to be vaccinated, tagged and weighed at the farm. He said buffalo have “tremendous strength” and can jump.
“You can’t go to pasture and say, ’53 and , we need you up here,’ ” he said, after the tractor had stopped in front of the handling facility, which is set up as a series of pens and alleys.
The wagon tour also stopped in front of a field that contained Whiskey and other buffalo.
“He’s turned out to be a real nice bull for us,” Pleasant said, adding that Whiskey was initially billed as mean. He said Whiskey is one of three bison on the farm that have names. Another is Lulu, which he said was the first calf born at Sunset Ridge.
The farm has three different herds, Pleasant said, with the breeding herds kept nearby at a separate farm. The farm produces 20 to 30 calves per year, he said, and one to two females are kept as replacements. He said both females and males are harvested for meat.
The farm has been in his family for generations, he said, adding that about 90 acres of it are used as pasture land. Previously, tobacco was grown on the land, he said.
They charge $9.50 per pound for their bison meat, said Sandy Pleasant. She said the farm sells the meat at the Durham Farmers’ Market, at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, and at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary. It’s also sold at a market in Hurdle Mills.
Jack Pleasant said the farm doesn’t have the production capacity to sell at more locations. He said each year, the farm turns down potential product vendors.
Speaking of the impetus for starting the bison farm, he mentioned a trip he took as a child with the Boy Scouts of America to a scout ranch in New Mexico, where he said he heard a bus driver talk about the merits of buffalo meat.
He said he was also interested in the nutritional value of the meat.
Sandy Pleasant said her husband sold his home health care business in 1995 prior to the launch of the bison farm. There are other farms that raise buffalo in the state, she said.
Husband-and-wife Pat Lloyd and Wayne Peterson of Hillsborough toured four different farms on Saturday, and on Sunday they started out their afternoon at Sunset Ridge. Lloyd said that because it was a rainy day, they decided to drive a little farther to the farm in Roxboro and take some pictures.
She said she believes bison are unique animals in this area, and she was interested in seeing the size of the herd, as well as how the farm manages and raises the animals. Before taking the wagon tour, she said she had tasted bison bratwurst and pulled bison barbecue.
On Saturday, said she was interested to see the practices used at two of the farms to protect some of the farm animals, such as the use of Great Pyrenees to protect some animals at one farm, and the use of llamas at another.
“I’ve been in this area for 30 years, and it’s great to see farms that … used to be tobacco, doing innovative things with the land,” she said.