It’s Day 2 of the road trip and we’re having the time of our lives. We’re in Buffalo, Wyoming and have traveled over 1100 miles in the last 2 days. We decided to visit Yellowstone National Park today, which was absolutely spectacular. I can’t wait to share the photos and the memories with you all. In the meantime, I thought it would be fitting to share the last story Sim wrote for Klipsun Magazine, which centers around buffalo.
From the porch of their log home on the Lone Boot Ranch in Ferndale, John and Sue Muggy eagerly watch and wait with binoculars in hand for final confirmation that this year’s calves are sucking. Five of the eight bison cows on the ranch have already given birth and the deer-sized, light brown babies lie near their mothers out in the timber-lined pasture. The Muggys know all too well that the hardest part is still to come. As the clock ticks and the hours turn to days, the Muggys hope the mother bison take to their young or the Muggys could once again be faced with the challenge of saving an orphaned buffalo.
As the Muggys sit on their porch, there isn’t any indication the 20th century every came or went. It is decorated with an eclectic collection of rusted antique farm equipment, and nearly everything has a picture of a buffalo on it. The massive logs that make up the walls of the house are capped with a pitched roof that extends over the porch, offering shade and a tranquil place to view the rolling pastureland. The occasional squawk of pheasants pierces the air and a bald eagle passes over in the distance, while a turkey vulture circles something nearby. Stacks of pillows and folded blankets on the wicker benches testify to the amount of time spent watching over the herd from the porch’s vantage point.
Sue is particularly concerned for the young of her favorite buffalo, June Bug. Juney, as Sue calls her because she was born in June, was an orphaned buffalo who Sue laboriously bottle fed and saved from certain death more than 8 years ago.
Saving an orphaned Buffalo is nearly impossible. For starters, the Muggys must first get the orphaned calf separated from the herd, which is guarded by General Custer, the herd bull. Sue says a bottle-fed calf must eventually be dehorned and will forever be considered a loner. As they age, female orphaned calves have trouble understanding their role as a mother. Sue knows this from experience because Juney orphaned her first calf, which then died of starvation because the Muggys could not get it separated from the herd.
The Muggys started raising buffalo in 1991 and have been selling meat from their Lone Boot Ranch since 1993. They currently have two commercial accounts, one with Tony’s Tavern in Custer and the other with the Bellingham Golf and Country Club. Throughout their 17 years in the business, the Muggys have supplied buffalo meat to local businesses including Nimbus, Willows, Boundary Bay, Brandy Wine Catering and Ciao Thyme.
The buffalo the Muggys raise are grass-fed. They say they don’t castrate or inject the animals with any vaccinations other than the necessary deworming. Selling the meat is an integral part of keeping their herd healthy and at a manageable size. They send the weaned yearlings off to a cutting horse ranch where they get to run and graze like wild buffalo. Sue says she tires of the troublesome and rambunctious young bulls and often tells them jokingly “you’re going be the first to go,” when they test her patience.
“If you born a bull around here, you’re pretty much done for,” Sue says with a chuckle.
John says he likes to remind customers that his Buffalo are wild animals and his herd is “trained, not tamed;” they can run 35 miles per hour and jump six feet from a stand still.
Although the Muggys’ herd is relatively large, caring for the herd is relatively inexpensive and Sue says she appreciates the tradeoff. In the summer, the Buffalo mow her 13 acres of pastures and another 10 acres they lease from the neighbors, saving valuable money and time. In the winter, the 30 buffalo eat about one round bail of grass or hay per week; each bail costs about $45. Buffalo do not have the dental problems cows have, mainly because Buffalo don’t regurgitate their cud as much and have less bacteria and acids in their stomachs, John says.
The Muggys say they believe buffalo meat is superior to grocery store beef in that a consumer knows what they are getting. The Muggys often reference the film “Food Inc.” and the book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” when talking about the recent awareness of sketchy feedlot and commercial butchering practices. When they used to buy meat at the store they thought they were buying healthy beef, but have since come to discover that it may have been from a diseased animal or an old dairy cow. The awareness of the antibiotics used in the beef industry and the unethical treatment and feeding of corn to cows in feedlots has driven them and their customers to eat more buffalo.
John is interested in sharing his expertise on Buffalo with others and finds he talks about buffalo at least four times a day. He holds classes and informative sessions with students and he and Sue sometimes travel to fairs and other events to show off the yearlings or orphans they have tamed. John says he is working on a children’s book so kids can understand the history and significance of the creatures he has grown to love.
During the informative sessions, John tells people to close their eyes and imagine crossing the great plains on a wagon, the roar and thunder of a million buffalo hooves pounding the ground can be heard, and the vibration of the earth shaking underneath them can be felt. He then tells them to open their eyes and hits them with the cold reality that this experience will never again happen. He says he intends for the shock factor of his story to make people appreciate the significance and impermanence of things and hopes people imagining what life would be like if buffalo were never hunted to near extinction will make them realize that an incredibly sustainable and healthy recourse has already been lost. He feels his small herd is a living testament to those majestic animals that died so railroads could be built and wars could be won. He says he believes he is doing more than supplying a healthy alternative to the beef industry; that his herd has a legacy to benefit mankind and he is indebted to them.