Flying through a foot of oozing, stinking, coal-black mud is Ken Farkash’s idea of a good day at work.
And riding ATVs, with the wind in my face and the sweet musky smell of wild sage, tall grasses, weeds, and wildflowers, I know why. The prairie is intoxicating.
We are heading out to Grizzly Bear Coulee – a series of rolling hills straddling the river-bed flats on the Farkash family farm that is located in Vermilion, Alberta. You don’t have to be a professional tracker to determine what kind of life roams here. Tufts of soft, brown fur float through the air and large droppings litter the ground.
As we approach the valley basin, we spot his grazing herd of 240 buffalo cows and their baby calves. Immediately sensing our presence, the herd tighten their stance and move closer together.
Even in their shaggy spring coats of shedding fur, these majestic animals are a sight to behold.
“On the farm there is always the opportunity to accomplish a dream. It’s a great life! As a kid, I grew up in a really small farmhouse that was almost like a wooden granary. It wasn’t insulated, and when the wind blew, the curtains moved!” he laughs.
“Most people who raise buffalo fall in love with them. You don’t herd buffalo like you do cows – you attract them with oats. They are gentle, wild creatures. I’ve had buffaloes eat right out of my hand!
“I talk to them in a calm voice and try to entice them. And you know, I’ve never had an animal chase me.”
In a sprint or marathon, Ken wouldn’t be much of a match. Buffalo are three times as fast as a cow and his only hope to out run them would be on one of his high-powered quads.
The natural lifespan for a buffalo cow is about 35 years. They use visual and auditory signals and have a highly developed sense of smell. With a gestation period of nine months, they’ll average about 25 calves in a lifetime. Bison are vegetation grazers and weigh in around 430 kg. Their brownish black fur actually contains a down which makes it surprisingly soft.
Historical accounts suggest there were 60 million bison in 1800. One hundred years later, there were fewer than 1,000 remaining. But with the reintroduction of bison to the plains by ranchers, farmers, and conservation agencies, that number increased to an estimated 500,000 in North America by 2005.
Along with raising buffalo, Ken and his wife Mavis also grow wheat and canola and like most farmers, they have seen their share of tough times and know what it is to be dependent on variables—like weather and economic conditions beyond their control.
Ken remains intentional about focusing on the positive and his eyes sparkle with delight when he tells me, “Character isn’t shaped by rose-garden experiences, and Deb: if I had one message to give to the public, it’s this. People need to realize that farmers are producing high quality food at a low price—and that is a good thing for everybody.”
As a regional Canadian Food – “Where the Buffalo Roam” depicts the passion of an Alberta farmer and his love of the land and animals. This “Canadian Food Experience Project” is as unique as the majestic buffalo that still roam this glorious country.