home on the range
Bison abound at Sayersbrook
by Jim McCarty
Sayers keeps a wary eye on the herd as he educates visitors to the
states largest bison ranch. Once an apple orchard, Skip introduced
bison to the ranch in 1975.
shows Skip Sayers feeding a massive bison bull, just inches away from
a pair of wicked horns. It was taken before his insurance man found out
what Skip was up to.
I did this I thought about gapping spark plugs, sky diving, anything but
this, Skip says. Like horses, they can smell fear.
You wont see Skip get that close to his bison anymore. On this day
he keeps a wary eye on the herd as he educates another trailer load of
visitors to his bison ranch near Potosi with a small sample of the information
hes learned about the all-American animal.
every tour group the shaggy beasts on his ranch are bison and not buffalo,
which are native to Africa and Asia but not the United States. Call them
buffalo and Skip will quickly correct you.
entrant into the bison industry, Skip and his wife, Connie, had to learn
how to raise bison the hard way. They were one of 10 ranchers in North
America who wanted to bring back a vestige of the great herds that once
roamed the continent, Missouri included. In the early going they made
a lot of mistakes.
were killing a lot of animals because we didnt know how to manage
them, Skip says. We were treating them like cattle and they
are not, they are wild.
works in his office at the ranch. Together with his wife, Connie,
Skip was a pioneer in America's modern bison industry.
the original 10 put their heads together and came up with a manual others
could follow. From that, almost anyone can get into the business
today and not worry about mismanagement, Skip says.
hard to imagine those humble beginnings when you survey what Sayersbrook
Bison Ranch has become. Much more than a ranch, its also a destination
for extreme hunters and off-road drivers.
Skip and Connie bought three bison from a used car salesman and brought
them home to the ranch located 9 miles east of Potosi. They promptly walked
through the fence and led the Sayers on a chase that lasted six months.
days the sight of a bison roaming the Ozark hills was unheard of. Once
close to extinction, bison numbers were on the rise when the Sayers got
those humble beginnings the herd grew. Today Sayersbrook Ranch is home
to 1,100 bison, give or take a few dozen. Look beyond the herd, however,
and youll see the ranch has grown into something as magnificent
as the shaggy beasts that roam its range.
Ranch got its start in 1928 when Skips grandfather received the
deed to 600 acres of land as payment for a printing debt. The elder Sayers
designed accounting systems for St. Louis firms like Shapleigh Hardware
and gradually eased into the printing business.
earning his living from printing, he found time to improve his patch of
Ozarks. By 1931 he had planted 7,000 apple trees which were irrigated,
an unheard of thing.
addition to bison, Sayersbrook Ranch features trails and lakes. Abover,
a tour group motors around a mile-long lake. The boat ride includes
a trip through a canal that connects it to a smaller lake.
the land passed to Skips father, who added cattle and sheep to the
orchards and built a mile-long lake in 1957. As bordering land went on
the market, the acreage increased until there were 1,600 acres when Skip
bison to the land worried his father, Skip says. My father thought
the cattle herd had mutated and come back with humps on their backs. He
did not think it was funny at all. He said, You are going to scare
all the apple buyers away.
just the opposite happened. People started driving from hundreds of miles
away to see the bison. Before they left, they bought apples.
investment proved providential to the ranch. His fathers work in
the orchard turned into a labor of love and not money, with apples fetching
the same price today they brought in 1940. Meanwhile the bison herd has
prospered to the point where Sayersbrook now markets bison meat worldwide
through a gourmet catalog.
Skip sold the printing and advertising business to devote his efforts
to the ranch, now measuring 6 square miles and 4,258 acres. Besides the
big lake, there are 65 ponds. There are eight bison herds separated by
100 miles of electric fence.
cows challenge each other by butting heads. Skip has also seen them
hold swimming races, sway to music and play king of the hill.
to the ranch are always welcome and over the years it has become a popular
tour destination. On any given day a tour bus pulls up to the office and
dozens of guests file into the amphitheater to learn the history of the
ranch. Then Skip takes over to lecture on the benefits of eating bison.
nutritional information backs up what Skip has to say: Meat from bison
is lower in fat than skinless chicken. It also is lower in cholesterol
than any other meat and has fewer calories, pound for pound, than everything
has 40 percent more protein than beef, so it takes less to satisfy your
these facts that led Skip and Connie to invest in the first three bison.
On the eve of the nations bicentennial, Skip had just finished reading
a 1,200-page anthology of the Plains Indians. The book claimed American
Indians, whose diet was primarily bison, never had cancer, heart disease
10 years selling the meat, Skip surveyed his buyers to see what kind of
person was buying in bison meat. He expected it to be health-conscious
people interested in the low-fat meat. Instead, it was gourmet cooks who
just like the taste.
catching on, Skip says of his efforts to educate the public about
the benefits of eating bison. Its more expensive than beef
and thats the main deterrent.
graze on the ranch.
the facts, the price may be a misleading. Skip says 40 percent of beef
cant be eaten because it is fat or grease that cooks out. Then with
40 percent more protein in bison, smaller portions can be served.
take those things, you can pay twice as much for bison as you can for
the best beef. Then you add the health benefits what price would
you pay for that?
person would be content to rest on the success of the bison herd. Not
Skip. Every day includes a new list of dreams for the land. In fact, the
bison are just one part of what the ranch has in store.
offers the ultimate outdoor adventure for the hunter with deep pockets.
For $7,000 Skip will put you up in his well-furnished hunting lodge, complete
with hot tub, pool, putting green, open bar and a gourmet chef cooking
chooses his setting prairie, woods or a combination of both
and a bull bison is turned loose in the environment. The next day the
hunter matches wits with his prey, warned of the fact that a misplaced
shot can result in a charge from a wild bull that can run 42 mph and clear
a 7-foot fence with ease.
in the price is a mounted head and meat worth $3,000.
amenities include tennis, access to 18 holes of golf at nearby Fourché
Valley Golf Course and a world-class sporting clays range. Theres
fly fishing for bass and bluegill on the spring-fed creek or lake fishing
from the pontoon boat.
and off-road instructor Rob Reitz watch an H2 Hummer wind its way
through a challenging section of trail on the ranch, which is home
to an off-road driving school.
hunts are available. The ranch bills its hunts as anything from 5-star
to under the stars, where the hunter does his own cooking
and sleeps outdoors.
unusual activity available at the ranch involves target shooting with
.30-caliber Browning machine guns. Skip also has a pair of armored cars
from the Gulf War and two H1 Hummers.
civilian versions of the Armys new jeeps, inspired a network of
trails that are the latest project at the ranch. Now in its second year,
The American Off Road Training Center teaches would-be off-roaders to
master the sport through classroom work, an obstacle course and graduation
to nearly 50 miles of progressively difficult trails.
Sayersbrook played host to two dozen brand new H2 Hummers brought in by
General Motors to demonstrate their prowess to owners of competing vehicles.
Once the drivers reached the end of the course they were rewarded with
gourmet meals featuring Sayersbrook bison served on fine linen.
murals add to the entertainment at Sayersbrook Ranch.
is also home to a September event designed to send Washington County youth
to college. Bisonfest, set for Sept. 20 this year, has paid the way for
250 students to date in one of the states poorest counties. The
Sayers also donated a building to the city of Potosi that now houses the
Sayers Senior Center. They also built an apartment complex where down
on their luck people can live until they get back on their feet.
and Connie continue to play an active role in the workings of the ranch,
from driving the tractor that pulls the tour groups to cooking lunch or
part of the fun of this job, Skip says. Weve got to
improve the bottom line. That will make it more fun.
can reach Sayersbrook Ranch at (573) 438-4449 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ranch is on the Internet at
www.sayersbrook.com. Groups of 20 or more need to make reservations
that can include a bison lunch. Individual tours are held every Saturday
at 10 a.m.