herd.jpg
 

An Uncommon Herd

Ratchford Buffalo Farms

By Lacey Thacker  Photography by Matthew Martin

Ratchford Buffalo Farms is, in fact, Arkansas’ very own—and only—buffalo farm, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the lifelong dream of LC Ratchford made reality. The 500-acre property is nestled in a valley in the hills near Marshall, where the Ratchford family has lived for several generations, and where LC’s parents once ran one of the largest strawberry farms in the state. The youngest of six kids, LC credits his success to the help of family, particularly his mother, Granny Madge. Several of his siblings help him run the farm, providing bookkeeping help, keeping up the rental cabin and doing farm work. 

Herd 28.jpg

LC’s farming plans began early. He says he saw some buffalo on a PBS special when he was a child, and he promised himself he would someday raise them. And he kept his promise—but it took awhile. First, LC had to grow up. Once grown, he knew starting a farm—and starting it right—would take financing. Ever the advance planner, he decided to take a career path that would help him be successful later—welding. 

LC did contract welding work for twenty years before returning permanently to Marshall. When he did return, he began building infrastructure to support his operation. When asked how much money he saved himself by not having to hire a welder, his eyes go wide before he answers, “Well. A lot.” Judging by the hundreds of feet of welded pipe fencing on the property, that’s an understatement. But, having been the recipient of more than one phone call from people who got in over their heads with exotic animals, LC feels strongly that people need to be prepared for the animal they intend to raise. Regarding his own heavy-duty fencing, he explains that, “Regular cattle fencing won’t hold in buffalo. You need something taller, sturdier.” 

Taller than your average cow, the animals are deeply intimidating as they approach visitors in a steady trot, eager for the food LC pours into buckets for visitors to offer the creatures. But once the buffalo stop and begin licking the pellets from outstretched hands, they are also the bringers of sheer joy. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to feed a beast this size, let alone one straight out of American legends. 

The meat from buffalo is leaner, yet also more flavorful, than regular beef, LC says. Every week, he or a farm hand drives a route through the state, delivering not just buffalo, but their almost-famous snack sticks in buffalo, boar, venison and elk varieties. The snack sticks can be found in many locations across Arkansas, not the least of which is the Arkansas state parks.

IMG_9020 copy.jpg

Not Just Buffalo
The farm doesn’t just have buffalo—though it has plenty of those. Farther down the dirt road, past the buffalo, is the Ratchford black angus beef herd. The large breed of cattle has, according to family legend, been in the family for over 100 years. LC says an ancestor of his from Georgia served in the Civil War before coming to Arkansas. “The story I got was that he actually got out [of the state] with a herd of cattle and drove ’em into this area. We’ve had the descendants of the same cattle [ever since]. I like to think they’re superior. We’ve got a very docile herd; that’s what we breed for.” The valley in which the herd lives is fed by eleven springs, ensuring the cattle receive fresh, pure water at all times.

Right at Home
LC’s home—with a second-story addition he built himself—is right at the edge the farm, and in his yard can be found fruit trees, berry bushes and volunteer tomatoes. Every year finds him adding to his permaculture hobby, his belief that land ownership really means land stewardship. 

In addition to the farm’s herds, LC has a heart for rescuing neglected or injured animals. He’s used some of his property to develop a refuge that now includes a deer, peacocks, a goat and other animals. 

His deep commitment to the farm and the community surrounding it can be evidenced by his simple statement: “I love it. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”