2018-01-13 / Features

Home is where the buffalo roam

PHOTOS AND STORY BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER

A herd of buffalo is grazing contentedly in a pasture at Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm west of Roxboro.

Some of the hay clings to the bushy tops of their massive heads, especially the bulls that stand out for their larger mops of curly, brown hair.

Jack and Sandy Pleasant are stewards of the herd of approximately 100 animals and the 260 acres of farmland where they graze.

For Jack, 67, it is a labor of love taking care of the herd.

“I like just having the herd around, being able to watch them,” he said. “It is that majesty and aura about them. It’s what the Native Americans experienced, and I think to a certain extent what we experience too, somewhat of a spiritual connection.”

Pleasant traces his interest in buffalo to 1964 when he went backpacking at the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico. He saw buffalo for the first time then, and again 30 years later when he took his son out West.


A buffalo is highlighted by the setting sun at the farm. A buffalo is highlighted by the setting sun at the farm. In the mid 1990s, he decided to sell his business due to favorable market conditions. It was called Med Visit and provided home health and private duty nursing and supplemental staffing.

He also had a farm that had been in his family since 1797, and he was trying to figure out what to do with it.

“As I started looking at things that might be a little bit different, things I had an interest in, raising buffalo came up,” he said. “It was a combination of the nutritional benefits of the animal and uniqueness of it, its history and story. I thought it might be something interesting.”

He sold the business in 1995, went to visit buffalo ranches for a few years, and in 2001, got his first eight calves, two males and six females. Over the years he has increased the size of the herd to about 100.


A calf with a mouthful of hay A calf with a mouthful of hay Buffalo are not new to Person County.

“There are old deeds from the 1700s in Person and Caswell Counties that reference buffalo wallows as reference points for old deeds so we know they roamed the Hyco Bottoms,” Pleasant said. The herds had fewer animals generally than the ones out West, generally between 30-100 animals.

The meat produced at the farm is processed at Piedmont Custom Meats between Burlington and Reidsville, the only place that processes bison meat in North Carolina. It is sold at the Durham and Carrboro Farmers Markets, Farm to Home Market here in Roxboro, Heirloom Restaurant, Hurdle Mills Market. and Farm to Home on 86 in Orange County, and a couple of restaurants over in Durham.

He said buffalo meat, from a nutritional standpoint, has many benefits.


Buffalo run during a recent snowfall. Buffalo run during a recent snowfall. “It has less fat, less calories, less cholesterol and more protein and more vitamin B-12 than chicken, pork, fish or beef,” he said. “It has a richer flavor than beef, particularly when they are raised on grass, as ours are. It may not taste exactly same in spring as in fall because of the difference in grasses.”

He said they are generally docile, except when you corral them.

“That’s when you see the wild come out,” Pleasant said. “There are a lot of cattle people who don’t have a tolerance for that.” They can be wild but they are also smart when it comes to defending the herd.

There was one time, back when the herd numbered only eight animals, when the neighbor’s dog got into the pasture with the intention of harassing the buffalo.

“They all lined up shoulder to shoulder, and the closer he got, they started to give warning signs, shaking their heads, their tails went up, and then the lead animal took off after him, with the herd following close behind,” Pleasant said. “They ran the dog into the electric fence and he never came back. He was not a problem.”


Jack Pleasant cuts the netting around hay as he feeds the animals. Jack Pleasant cuts the netting around hay as he feeds the animals. Jack said his plans for the future are to maintain the herd size at the current level and eventually sell it off.

“I am pretty much at capacity as far as raising animals on grass,” he said. “And I don’t have any children or grandchildren interested in carrying this on.”

That appears to suit him fine. As he busies himself around his picturesque farm, taking care of the bison, he is as content as the bison lounging in the pasture and munching on the hay.

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