by Pauline E. Burnes, PLA
You don’t need to travel to Custer State Park in South Dakota to experience the incredible splendor of a large herd of bison, more commonly called buffalo. Mud Creek Bison Ranch is located in Savona, NY. The ranch is only 17 miles northwest of the Corning Museum of Glass and Rockwell Museum of Western Art and 14 miles southeast of the Village of Hammondsport and Keuka Lake wine country.
Mud Creek Bison Ranch is a family-owned operation that was established in 2013. Chris Comstock and his father established the herd that consists of the two largest species of bison in North America, the wood bison and the American Plains bison. The wood bison is the largest of North America’s native land mammals and is the official National Mammal of the U.S.
The Comstocks purchased their first herd of wood bison from a ranch in Minnesota. They designed and built a specialized kneeling trailer with air bags, moveable axels and rubber mats to haul the bison, starting with 40 animals in the first load. Other bison were acquired as ranchers in other areas retired. When bison first arrive at Mud Creek, they are quarantined in a 300-foot diameter circular corral. All animals are tested for tuberculosis prior to purchase and arrival on the ranch. No animals are bought or sold at livestock auctions.
The herd size at Mud Creek has grown to 300 bison (including 13 white bison) pastured on 800 acres of reclaimed land that was once a gravel quarry. The land was cleared, graded, seeded and fenced. The bison herd currently consists of 15 breeding bulls, 164 cows, 60 calves born in 2021 and one- to two-year-old heifers and bulls. Artificial insemination is not used, and there is no crossbreeding with domestic cattle. The typical diet is grass and hay. Beets, apples and pumpkins are fed on occasion when they are available. Bison are social creatures, roaming in herds in their native habitats. Providing the bison large pastures as a herd reduces stress on the animals and provides abundant exercise. The access roads built by the Comstocks near the fenced pastures also provide safe viewing opportunities for the public.
Wood bison are the larger of the two subspecies. It’s both larger and heavier, attaining a mature weight about 200 pounds, or 15% more, than the American Plains bison. Adult male wood bison are approximately six feet tall at the shoulder, 10 feet long and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The females are smaller, weighing around 1,200 pounds. Both genders have huge, wide heads and short, black horns. Both subspecies grow a very thick winter coat and tolerate extremely cold temperatures. Both have humps that rise straight up from the neck, then slope downward to the hips. The hump of the wood bison is larger and somewhat squared; the American Plains bison is rounded. The bone structure of this giant, forward hump supports a massive muscle structure that helps them sweep their head through deep snows to access grasses underneath. Bison begin to lose their coats in early spring, and by midsummer the coat is completely shed and replaced with new hair. At Mud Creek Bison Ranch the soft, durable bison hair is collected and spun into wool products, such as yarn and felt sole boot inserts.
Bison destined for human consumption are sent to a USDA processing facility when they are three years old. Bison are wrangled with ATVs, which is a job that requires skill and courage. Horses are not used, as bison can hit top speeds of 40 mph and can maintain that speed for a long period.
Mud Creek Bison Ranch is a member of the National Bison Association, a nonprofit association of producers, processors, marketers and bison enthusiasts. Association members abide by a Code of Ethics which ensures the humane and sustainable raising of American bison. The association has more than 1,100 members in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.
Educational tours and charity events are a community focus of Mud Creek Bison Ranch. Visitors include 4-H and FFA groups and preschool children. The ranch remains open during the pandemic, providing popular outdoor activities, and hosts charity events for various organizations.
As a destination in the “Frontier of the Southern Tier,” Mud Creek Bison Ranch offers narrated tours of the ranch where visitors safely view the bison herd from their vehicles or as a group in a covered wagon pulled by a tractor. Afterward, visitors are encouraged to visit the retail center and gift shop. Frozen bison meat of various cuts, items made from bison such as yarn, horns and jewelry and Mud Creek Bison Ranch souvenirs are available. For more information visit the Mud Creek Bison Ranch Facebook page.