A home where the buffalo roam

By H.B. Dodds, Staff Writer
Posted 11/11/21

Observant Osage County motorists cruising Hwy. 89 North near Chamois enjoy a view of, literally, “a home where the buffalo roam.” Of course, it’s not hard to see deer playing …

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A home where the buffalo roam

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Observant Osage County motorists cruising Hwy. 89 North near Chamois enjoy a view of, literally, “a home where the buffalo roam.” Of course, it’s not hard to see deer playing anywhere in the county but antelope have yet to be sighted.

About those buffalo, though, is that even the right word? A local expert explains, “The difference between bison and buffalo is that ‘bison’ is spelled b-i-s-o-n, and ‘buffalo’ is spelled b-u-f-f-a-l-o.,” said Steve Smyth, who, with his wife Janice, owns the Seven Thunder Bison Ranch, where the buffalo roam near Chamois. “‘Bison’ is the scientific name but we all learned about ‘buffalo’ in grade school. So, we raise bison, but sell buffalo.” 

Steve and Janice Smyth both grew up in northern Indiana. Young Janice lived on a dairy farm, and Steve was in a small town where young men could work summers on nearby farms. Janice stayed close to home, obtaining a nursing degree at Indiana University. Steve went to the University of Nebraska in Omaha, earning a degree in Business Administration. They married in 1983 and settled, for a while, in Indianapolis.

In 1998, a pair of jobs, one for him, and one for her came open in St. Louis. Janice received a very good job offer. Steve, by then a software application developer, could work just about anywhere. They moved to Wildwood. 

At about the same time, they both were starting to miss their rural roots. They began looking for farmland and browsing livestock catalogs. The move to Missouri proved fortuitous. They were thinking the same thing in Indiana, but farmland was expensive there. Making such a purchase was much more attractive after the move west.

Raising bison caught their eyes from an advertisement in a livestock catalog. They joined the Missouri Bison Association and one of the first friends they found in that organization was a realtor, who found for them the ranch they own today. It’s about 96 acres, of which better than a third is suitable pasture.

It took two years to build infrastructure for the otherwise low-maintenance herd. Bison are wild animals. They would never appreciate the coddling required by more conventional livestock. Good pasture land is all it takes to feed them. With no reason to flee from anything Missouri has to threaten them, they’re quite docile in the field. 

Don’t try to herd them, the Smyths note. If they go anywhere, it’s because they think it’s a good idea, not the rancher. Don’t let that docility fool you, either. They’re quite athletic. 

“Bison can jump over five feet from a standing position, so fences need to be higher than a cattle fence,” Smyth explained. “We don’t make pets of these animals or try and pet them.” 

It’s also a good idea to leave them alone during the rut and at calving time. The calves are usually born in May.

After fencing the pasture and establishing the herd, the Smyths commuted on weekends. That’s how they built their farm and prepared for full-time ranching. Steve now works for Daugherty Business Solutions as a data modeler. Janice has retired from nursing and works full-time at the ranch. The Smyths credit a neighbor, John Weed, and his family. They were “extremely helpful in watching over the farm in our absence as well as taking care of unforeseen issues before we even knew about them,” said Smyth.

They purchased 10 animals in 2001 and built the herd from there. Letting nature take its course is more prevalent with such a beast than with beef or pork. The Seven Thunder herd has been as large as 43, but during tough times, some recent, it can decrease. Right now, they’re down to 17 but it’s been up and down before. Things have been good enough recently: they built a home on the ranch in 2016 and moved into it in 2018. Now, they’re permanent residents of Osage County. Steve has recently accepted an appointment to the Osage County 911 Advisory Committee.

What about that, very, interesting name of the Seven Thunder Bison Ranch? The Smyths are people of faith, attending services at First Baptist Church in Linn. 

“As practicing Christians, we have a firm belief that Jesus will return,” said Smyth. “Revelation gives a relatively clear account of the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ if you do an in-depth study.”

His specific reference is to Revelation 10: 3-4, “And [the angel] cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”

Historicists have speculated “seven thunders” refers to the conquest of Rome. Called the City of Seven Hills, it fell to barbaric tribes in the fifth and sixth centuries. The best historicists, and historians, though, note history repeats itself. Many modern historicists join futurists, believing there’s an eschatological element in this prophecy.

Meanwhile, bison were called a “thundering herd” by Native American tribes and 19th Century buffalo hunters. Steve and Janice Smyth are taking advantage of the nature of their chosen livestock. That’s how they bear testimony of what is most precious to them. “Maybe it is a stretch,” said Smyth, “but we wanted a name with some sort of reference to our Christian beliefs.” 

There are more than a few in Osage County who will give the idea a “thumbs up,” and a wink, especially on that hill west of town.

Those waiting for a final fulfillment of the prophecy, or anyone else, can now enjoy a meal. It’s higher in protein and iron, but lower in calories and fat than beef and even chicken. “Bison raised on North American ranches produces nutritionally superior meat that is low in fat, high in protein, and off the charts in terms of flavor,” says the National Bison Association website, ww.bisoncentral.com.

“Exceptionally high in protein and minerals, bison is low in fat, calories and cholesterol,” adds the Missouri Bison Association website, www.mobisons.org. “It tends to satisfy you more while eating less.”

Pasture-grazing only produces such an animal. Seven Thunder Bison are not lot-fed. Osage Veterinary Clinic cares for Seven Thunder animals and a processor in Sedalia provides state inspections and gets the product ready for sale. 

“Our business is ‘gate to plate,’” explained Smyth. “We raise the bison from birth and then market the meat.” Several independent stores, including JC Health Foods, Jefferson City, and establishments in Washington, St. Peters, and Warrenton, carry it. They also sell quarter and half-sides and a la carte packages directly to individuals.

For more information, email SevenThunderBison@yahoo.com.

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