Building a Bison Homestead: Life at Cherokee Valley Bison Ranch

Reader Contribution by Annie Warmke
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Earlier in the summer we had the good fortune to travel down Lonesome Lane to meet a woman farmer – I think Carie’s story is a good example of how many of us ease into our dreams.

In Carie’s words: “My grandmother was a big influence in my upbringing. In the 50 years she owned this farm she didn’t allow any pesticides to be used. I remember her talking about the “conventional” farmer who farmed the adjoining fields and hoping one of the hoses would come off of his sprayer and choke him!

In the 90’s she divided up her farm and gave land to each one of her children. She wanted to see them enjoy her gift. My parents were hippies who brought my sister and me up with “organic gardening”. We didn’t know it was called that at the time but all of these things made an impression. No surprise that when I went to college I studied Environmental Science.

My first job was at a water testing lab. Then I worked in an anodizing factory doing process control analysis and their wastewater testing. It was awful and I was exposed to so many nasty chemicals. 

In 2001 I had a lot of life changes, and moved back home. My aunt was kind enough to let me stay in a house she had. I begged my mom to let me put a house on her property and within six months I had a home in the middle of a 25-acre hay field.

In 2006, I went to work in a veneer mill as a safety coordinator. To celebrate my new job I went to eat at a restaurant where they served bison.  It was the best thing I had ever tasted.  I thought to myself that I would like to eat it all the time. That’s when the light bulb went on! I lived in the middle of 25 acres AND I could raise bison!

I began to read all about bison and the more I read the more I wanted those amazing critters! I didn’t think it would ever happen though. The fencing alone was more than a single mom could ever afford. Not to mention the expense of the bison themselves.

About a year into my new job I started dating Jarrod. I introduced him to my bison dream and convinced him it would be a good idea! We thought we would start small with some calves and go from there. In early 2008, Jarrod read an ad in the Columbus Dispatch “Bison herd for sale”. We went just to look and ask questions, but when we laid eyes on Charlie, the herd bull, it was love at first sight. He was the picture perfect buffalo, he had a huge hump and woolly head that was as big as a tractor tire! To top it off the owner told us that the processor was going to buy the whole herd and slaughter them! So us crazy buffalo-love-struck people with no fences, no barn, no truck bought a herd of 14 bison!!!

Luckily the people we bought them from let us keep them there until we could get a pasture built. We quickly bought a truck so we could haul hay, fencing supplies and other “farmy” stuff.  We set about building a buffalo proof fence. Having never built high tensile fence before we took many “field” trips to check out surrounding farmers fences to see how it was done. Within a month we had a pasture and a pen built…we were ready to bring our babies home!

I will never forget the first day. We were checking the fence and waiting for the delivery when across the hill we could hear the sound of a heavy stock trailer bouncing on our gravel road “kachung kachung”.  The driver pulled down to the field, we opened the gate and two wonderful bison were running through our pastures! What a feeling of accomplishment! What a beautiful sight!

Within a few weeks we had our whole herd here. We have spent the last five years spending every cent we have on our farm. I knew all my life I wanted to have a business, to be my own boss but I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do until we got bison.

It didn’t take long for both of us to leave our “important” jobs and try farming full time. Unfortunately Jarrod did have to get an off farm job for the time being. Luckily I still get to be a stay-at –home farmer. We keep adding new things and hatching new ideas to get us to the point we can pay our feed bill AND still have money left to pay the mortgage and utilities. We focus on heritage breed animals in an effort to preserve the old world breeds, you can’t get any more heritage- breed than bison! We raise Tamworth hogs and Narragansett turkeys as well. We sell breeding stock to other farmers to expand their numbers. We started our vegetable CSA in 2012 and doubled our customers in 2013.

My office is a 50-acre paradise filled with singing birds. Everyday Mother Nature has something wonderful to witness. Most people think my life is boring and I don’t have much to talk about in mixed company. To me there is nothing finer than a newly hatched chick, or a fresh baby bison learning how to run and buck, watching a baby pig be born and know to go right to suckling.”

Thanks, Carie, for sharing…it is a challenge to remember that our dreams often happen gradually and not all at once.

More from Annie at Blue Rock Station.