Back in the fall we (ok I) purchased a membership in a program called Harvest Hosts after I learned about it from the wonderful Hedderman family. It is a site that connects you with farms, ranches and vineyards across North America that will allow you to stay for free (or a low cost) and experience their facility in some way.
We had not had any luck using it up until now and I was excited when I went to look at the choices on Vancouver Island and discovered a Bison farm just outside of Comox! With a quick email to see if we could come and stay, we were on our way to experience the magic of the Island Bison Ranch and the Vance family.
We pulled in on Friday afternoon after driving from Tofino in the rain and were full of smiles. We were surrounded by Bison! After figuring out where the best place for us to park was, we got ourselves settled (aka the sprawl started).
I was pretty thrilled with the view out the camper window! As HUGE as bison are, the herds here are so well cared for that they are not all wound up and grumpy. That’s not to say that they are friendly like pets, but you certainly didn’t feel any anxiety being parked 5 feet away from them on the other side of a basic fence. They were really curious about us and often came wandering up as a group to see what we were up to.
It probably didn’t hurt that we were given a bucket of alfalfa pellets to feed them every once in a while!
The Ranch is run by one big, wonderful family comprised of Grandma & Grandpa Watson and Marc & Lisa Vance and their 4 kids. Hunter and Chase (their almost 11 yr old boy) connected in the first 5 minutes and we didn’t see him until we went and got him 8 hours later at 11:00 pm! They continued to hang out off and on all weekend and that was certainly a treat for Hunter.
Along with life on the ranch came wildlife and Hunter has now learned to pick up snakes – ack!
And Tim made friends with Link the friendly pot bellied pig…
And BOB the Bison that doesn’t know he isn’t a pet. Sunday morning Tim was sitting outside in the chair reading and Bob came up to the gate that was about 20 feet away. He started lightly snorting to get Tim’s attention. Tim wandered over and they hung out for a good 20 minutes, chatting and petting and munching on grass. Pretty amazing for a 2500lb bison. BOB was bottle fed as a calf and doesn’t seem to know that he is supposed to be grumpy. He also does a great job taking care of the calves when they are being separated from their mom’s – just the right temperament!
In addition to Bison, the ranch also has a herd of Water Buffalo. IF they weren’t so big you would think they were puppies – all they want to do is lick you and get petted, even similar in how they will bang your hand to get you to pet them…
Big excitement on Saturday was the arrival of a new 2 week old Water Buffalo calf – newly named Vance. We stopped by to visit him in the afternoon and he was pretty keen to suck on just about anything as he got settled in! Tim successfully kept his fingers.
One of Hunter’s highlights was getting to bottle feed Vance. The calves are fed a special formula twice a day until they reach 260 lbs, at which point they are weaned for about 10 days and then straight onto hay and alfalfa mix like the big kids.
Sunday afternoon Hunter got to help with the weighing of the Water Buffalo calves to see if they had reached their weaning weight. It was their first time out of their stalls and made for some good humour (for those of us watching) as Marc and the boys took the calves for a “walk” from their stalls to the scales.
We had a truly memorable experience at the Island Bison Ranch. We were welcomed onto the property and into their operation and invited to participate in everything that was going on. We learned ALOT about Bison and Bison Ranching and continue to have enormous respect for those that choose the farming life. When we left Sunday evening, we felt as though we were leaving friends and are hopeful that our paths will cross again some day.
Hunter is already asking about other Harvest Host locations before we get home so I think it was also a success in his books.