Buffalo Ranch in Stoneville, SD: "Along the Way"

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There's a place south of tiny Mud Butte, South Dakota and north of the little town of Union Center: smack dab in the heart of Americana.
It's a ranch that sows and grows: family ties, work ethic, and a symbol of the old West, "Along the Way" in Stoneville South Dakota.

Steve: It's 13-thousand acres of a step back in time...The Cammack Buffalo Ranch stretches about as far as the eye can see. Last time through, so many dusty days ago, the big beasts were wild. Now they're back, an alternative livestock with a distinctively historic feel.

Buffalo Rancher John Cammack says, "They look fluffy and nice
but they sure could hurt you in a real big hurry. They're way faster than cattle are."

John grew up on the ranch, He and Melanie fell in love in high school.

Buffalo Rancher Melanie Cammack says, "19 years of buffalo ranching and 19 years of marriage. We got married in October and we got buffalo in January."

John Cammack of the Cammack Buffalo Ranch says, "We usually are work side by side most every day of the year."

They're just one of 4 generations still working this family ranch. It had been a cattle ranch, but for the past 19 years, each year, it becomes more buffalo and less beef.

Melanie Cammack of the Cammack Buffalo Ranch says,"There's a huge demand for buffalo meat right now so the price is a lot better for the buffalo meat, but even with that only 1/10th of 1 percent of Americans have even tried buffalo."

John Cammack says, "The buffalo meat is a lot leaner meat and so the market for the buffalo meat right now is way outdoing what we can supply."

So just how short is the supply? here's a comparison.

"They slaughter as many buffalo in a whole year as they do for beef in one day, " says Melanie Cammack.

John Cammack says,"The profitability on the buffalo is about double what the cattle are right now."

They're a cow-calf operation meaning they breed the animals and sell the calves. So even though they don't make their money selling the meat, calves are obviously a crucial part of the industry.

John Cammack says, "South Dakota is the number one producer of buffalo in the nation, by quite a ways actually."

Due to the drought over the past couple years, the Cammacks have to use their Ford F-250 pickup to deliver food pellets as a supplement to what's not growing in the pastures. And buffalo they say, require less attention than cattle.

"Winter does not bother them a bit. On the nastiest, stormiest day in the world, they'll be standing up on a hill facing into it and playing in the snow, and the cattle will be tucked in behind a windbreak. So you don't need near as much protection for the buffalo as you would with the cattle," says John Cammack.

And the relative ease of raising buffalo extends to calving season.

Melanie Cammack says, "When our beef are calving, it is very labor intensive. We're with them every 2 hours. Somebody has to make sure that they've been checked."

Whereas buffalo don't require help, so the Cammacks essentially just count the calves.

John Cammack says, "Buffalo have a very major pecking order. Each cow knows who's tougher than who. And each bull knows who's tougher than who."

While raising Buffalo is less labor intensive, they require the Cammacks to build higher fences and stronger corrals, as they adopt this former cattle only ranch to accommodate the far more athletic buffalo.

Melanie Cammack says,"They kind of do their own thing and they're made to be out here. They're made to withstand what comes at us."

Indeed it appears they are made to be here, looking perfectly at home, enjoying the wide open lands, where their ancestors once freely roamed...in the heart of Americana

John's Grandpa Floyd, and Grandma Donna along with his Uncle Lane still work this land. With John, Melanie and their kids; that makes 4 generations linked together by a way of life.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.

*And just a friendly reminder: buffalo are very dangerous. So, it is never a good idea to approach them, and always best to stay in your vehicle if you see them.