So I actually expected this book to be more of a memoir of sorts. And in a way it was, but largely, it was what the cover said, "restoring life to a black hills ranch." More specifically, restoring buffalo to the land.
Dan O'Brien has owned a ranch in
the Black Hills for some time. And he started out with cattle. But
like most ranchers in the area, making ends meet with this type of
ranching is near impossible. So much so that he has to take jobs
elsewhere just to make the mortgage payment. But in addition to being a
rancher, O'Brien is also a teacher, ecologist, and so many more roles
and he's interested in bringing the wildlife back to the Black Hills
after years of overgrazing. One step further has him start raising
Buffalo instead of cattle and while he's a novice to begin with, he
learns as he goes. This book greatly details how running a sustainable
Buffalo farm works for O'Brien and his hardships and triumphs within the
first few years.
O'Brien talks about the Buffalo in this book
mainly, but there are small snippets of his life. From his sadness over
his divorce, his joy in children discovering the buffalo, and just
getting along with his neighbors, we can see that overall he's a good
person, who's committed to the land. He doesn't hesitate to point out
flaws, like the sloppiness of the guy who helps him work the ranch, but
he is kind about it and still makes sure to point out all the good
things too. And he cares about all the animals. From the falcons he
keeps as a hobby, to the bird dogs, to the buffalo themselves, he
doesn't mistreat them. He lets nature take it's course and doesn't add
any cruelty to it. He lets them be animals.
I'm not going to
lie, I did find this book dull at times. Most specifically when he is at
auction buying more buffalo. I much prefer his descriptions of them
out on the land and the care of them. Even the roundups are kind of
exciting, but still not nearly as good as him just describing the land.
And it is nice he's still making it work, even selling the meat on the
internet through his wildideabuffalo site. He's a believer in not
finishing his buffalo in feed lots, and that's admirable. O'Brien does a
good job describing the life of a rancher. It's not glorious or
romantic and you can tell you really have to love what you're doing to
stay in the business.
An inspiring read. I definitely learned a lot more about buffalo than I ever knew before.
Buffalo for the Broken Heart