With the call of “C’mon Chester” the Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch tour begins and gives everyone in attendance an up close and personal tour with the majestic animals.
Owner of the ranch, Leo Downey, took a long journey to come and raise buffalo around Golden. In the years that have followed he has spent so much time with the 25-year-old leader of the herd, Chester, that the animal has become part of Downey’s family.
Born in Monterey, California, Downey spent much of his early years growing up in Iceland and Singapore due to his father’s career as a navy pilot.
Eventually his family made their way back to Santa Barbara, California, where he finished high school and became a professional musician.
Downey ended up coming to the Golden area on his honeymoon in 1996.
“My solo experiences in the wilderness are a core part of my life. I fell in love with my wife back there and after getting married in 1996, we came to Canada on our honeymoon and I fell in love with Canada too,” he said.
The ranch itself is located on 80 acres of meadows, wetlands, and forest and has a 360 degree mountain view for people to enjoy.
Downey said the tour not only gives people the chance to see the animals but so much more.
“Since focusing on the educational buffalo tours I give everyday through the tourist season, I see great potential to expand my ranch into a destination where people can come and experience not only the buffalo, but an intimate connection with what life is like here,” Downey said. “Somehow the buffalo seem to draw a person’s own story out and show it to them. I’d like to help people appreciate and tell their story.”
He explained the all of the buffalo have a rank and a place in the herd which is like a family and the farm gives people a chance to see the animals in a natural setting.
“I think it is kind of unique and totally safe. They are in a natural social structure and sometimes you don’t see that in many places,” he said.
As for his relationship with the animals Downey laughed and said, “They treat me like
He also said he has received great support from local people and friends over the years.
When some of the herd wandered off a few years ago, more than a dozen friends showed up the next day to help bring the animals back home. It is that kind of support which is part of the reason why Downey loves living in the area.
“It has been so great to live here and I have such respect for the animals. I love everything about it. I have made many great friends who have stuck with me through everything,” he said.
There have been some tough times on the ranch over the past few years but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Three years after he started selling buffalo meat in California the border was shut due to the mad cow outbreak which he said had nothing to do with the buffalo. Downey then started selling the meat locally and things were going very well until regulations changed and the government said he could not kill the animals on the farm. He could have shipped the animals to a plant but that was something he was not willing to put the animals through.
“Buffalo hate to be separated from the herd, it is basically torturing them. They wanted us to truck them six hours to a plant and it could be up to another day sometimes where they are so stressed out. Then you have to truck all the meat back here. It just didn’t work,” he said.
Now the laws have been changed so he will be able to sell meat starting the late fall and winter.
“I just wanted to let people know that I will be able to sell again,” he said.
Even though times have not always been perfect Downey said he does still have many great memories and funny stories.
“Tripping over Chester’s huge frozen buffalo chips and falling on my face with all the buffalo looking down at me, amused and snickering to each other. Chester getting his head stuck in the feed bin and having to saw him out. When my buffalo got out and went across the river 13 neighbours showed up the next morning to help me get them back. Shane Lehman and Gary Foyston were on horseback and Chester charged them. A buffalo can run faster than a horse. They thought it was great and they still laugh about it,” he said.
Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch is located in the beautiful Blaeberry Valley, 10 minutes north of Golden, British Columbia and people can drop by between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for a tour.