February 21, 2013

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien

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
Copyright 2001
254 pages

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