Ratchford Farms provides place for buffalo to roam

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published August 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 26, 2013 at 9:23 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Ratchford Farms in Marshall has been in business since the early 1950s. L.C. Ratchford has been responsible for the expansion of the farm to raise buffalo as a source of income. Shown is Jethro, a 3,000-pound alpha male bull.

MARSHALL — L.C. Ratchford’s farm has been in his family since 1952. It has been a strawberry, tomato, hog and cattle farm through the years, but one thing has remained the same — family.

Ratchford, along with his six siblings, grew up on the farm he now owns. The land was split up between the children.

“I’m the youngest, and I was the only one who wanted to farm,” Ratchford said.

When he graduated from high school, although he had a dream of becoming a farmer, he got a degree in welding.

“I made good money,” he said.

He saved the money he made from welding and gradually bought farmland from his siblings. Ratchford said although the farm went through changes as the years went by, it always had cattle.

“My father died in 1986,” he said.

After the death of his father, Ratchford took control of the farm, which at the time was strictly a beef-cattle operation.

Ratchford knew the farm was missing something — until he saw a story that would change the operation of his farm forever.

“I saw a story on PBS about buffalo, and I always knew I wanted to get into buffalo,” he said.

In 1997, his dream of purchasing his first buffalo came true.

“I started out with four buffalo,” he said. “[Buffalo] are very majestic, and they’re hearty and residual.”

He said buffalo were almost driven to the point of extinction, and they have made their way back in the United States.

“The buffalo will fight among each other, and then pull together to fight off any predators they have,” Ratchford said. “[Here] they have no predators except for humans.”

Ratchford said that before he purchased the buffalo, he spent 10 to 15 years building heavy-duty gates and pens that could contain the 2,000-pound animals.

“It was something I knew I was meant to do,” he said. “I had a plan, and I stayed with it.”

He now has around 40 buffalo on his 500-acre farm.

After Ratchford established his buffalo business, in addition to the cattle on his farm, he started selling buffalo meat to local restaurants.

“I sell to restaurants in Mountain View, Mountain Home, Harrison, Jasper and Marshall,” Ratchford said.

Compared to beef, Ratchford said, the popularity of buffalo meat has grown over the years.

“It’s lower in cholesterol, higher in B vitamins, and it has as much potassium as a glass of orange juice,” he said.

In the beginning, he sold primarily buffalo meat; then he decided he didn’t want to stop there.

“I got into jerky,” Ratchford said.

Business boomed after he started the jerky operation.

“You can buy my jerky at 52 state parks,” he said.

Ratchford Farms now has buffalo, cattle, goats, emus and chickens.

He said he has 11 natural springs on his farm and uses the water for his livestock.

“The buffalo, cows and goats are all grass-fed and spring-watered,” he said.

Farming gives Ratchford freedom and a chance to do what he always wanted to do.

“I enjoy watching things grow,” he said. “It’s just a way of life.”

A farmer’s work is never done, Ratchford said.

“There’s always something to do,” he said.

Ratchford said he can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

“I’m blessed, and I know it,” he said. “I’m very fortunate because I’m getting to live my dream. Someone could offer me any job in the world, and I wouldn’t take it.”

More information about Ratchford Farms is available by emailing Ratchford at ratchfordfarms@yahoo.com.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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