“Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam…” is a song everyone knows. However, did you know the songwriter wasn’t actually seeing buffalo, but bison (mind blown)! Buffalo are native to Asia and Africa and bison are native to North America. Just ask Brian & Amy Maddern, owners of Iron Bison Ranch, they know great herds of bison once roamed North America. According to The Nature Conservancy, it is estimated that around 30 million bison roamed the continent when Columbus landed. The herds were so large that the bison became a symbol of the seemingly endless resources of the continent. But in the late 1800s, bison were almost entirely eliminated, with less than 1,000 left at the lowest point. Luckily the bison population is making a comeback and there are more than 350K of the big, bold creatures roaming on the range.
Ranchers like the Madderns are helping to increase the population. They were not previously involved with agriculture or bison, but a year ago, took a big leap when they purchased the bison ranch in Townsend, GA, about an hour south of Savannah. They currently have 21 bison within their family run farm. Bison meat has become increasingly popular in the US which is not surprising, it’s lower fat content, lower cholesterol and higher in iron than it’s beefier counterparts.
But bison ranching is not for the weak of heart, Brian admits it’s extremely challenging, especially balancing ranch duties with his “day job.” But it’s also rewarding with lots of laughter. In fact, he recently had a run-in with a 1 ton (the same weight as a VW Beetle) bull when he pushed through the main gate and was walking around the property. Brian says “Every time I tried to open the front door to the house he would walk by or head toward my direction. I called a friend to come over and relay the location of the bull and by this time 3 other bison as they walked around the main property looking for treats.” After about an hour of being trapped in his house by these sometimes aggressive animals, they decided to head back to pasture. Relieved, Brian slowly opened the front door and low crawled toward his tractor. Once he got to the tractor, now covered in mud or what he told myself was mud, he grabbed some hay with the tractor and moved out toward the pasture, to which the bison all came running. His friend was able to secure the gate and he dropped the hay in the far pasture. Once everything was secure he then realized, it was not mud, and was very grateful for his outdoor shower.
Currently the ranch is working on expanding the herd and making the charismatic barn available to rent out for weddings and events. They want to share the experience of ranching and give people the chance to learn more about the tough and unyielding creatures. You can visit the farm but they close during calving season, you don’t mess with a mama bison. Follow Iron Bison Ranch on Instagram or Facebook to schedule tours and get updates on the ranch.
You can find Iron Bison Ranch products at Forsyth Farmers Market on Saturdays. They are also close to opening a store on the ranch, they will not only have bison meat available, but also shirts, bison inspired jewelry, bison dog treats and ranch inspired candles. Right now you can buy meat at the ranch by appointment.