SAVOR THE SEASON: North Hudson: Where the buffalo roam … or is it bison?
NORTH HUDSON — The bison, their fur colored a rich dark brown, lay on a vast range filled with rocks and greenery.
Watching the herd from a wooden overlook on a nearby hill was Dorreen Ossenkop, co-owner of the Adirondack Buffalo Company. She and her husband, Steve, built this business on the Blue Ridge Road from scratch. Neither grew up in the Adirondacks, and neither had experience with bison when they started — but they took classes, found their stride and the business has continued to attract visitors.
Dorreen, a New Jersey native, met her husband, a Dutchess County native, when they were young. When Dorreen was old enough, the couple started dating — they’ve now been married for 51 years.
The couple achieved their dream of moving to the Adirondacks — a place where they’d vacationed together — around 26 years ago. They built the farm on land not far from Frontier Town, a wild west theme park that closed down in 1998 and has since reopened as a state-owned campground.
“We just loved the area and finally found the right piece of property, and we worked up to moving here full time,” Dorreen said.
The couple have raised a number of species of animals over the years, but ultimately they settled on bison.
“It’s an American symbol,” Dorreen said. “And we figured, as tough as things are here, they were one of the few things that had a chance of surviving. We had raised a lot of other animals in the past — sheep don’t have a chance up here with all of the coyotes and everything, so we didn’t want to bother with that. We raised cattle and pigs, chickens and a lot of things that don’t especially do well here because of the cold and all of the predator animals.”
For years, Steve took the reins on the farm during the week while Dorreen worked full time at the IBM plant in Essex Junction, Vermont. She worked her way up to being an engineer manager. Now, Steve works full time and does chores around the farm on his off-time while Dorreen oversees the farm and manages the company’s store on Blue Ridge Road.
Looking out over the couple’s herd, and the vast fields set against a backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains, Dorreen said that even after all these years she still loves bison, and she never takes their home for granted.
“At lot of people say, ‘You’re probably so used to it that you take it for granted.’ I say, ‘No,'” she said. “I walk out that door and I walk around, and I never take it for granted. It’s beautiful.”
When people think of bison, often the West comes to mind — but there have been bison farms in New York state for generations. Dorreen and Steve bought their first few bison years ago from farm in Stormville, Dutchess County. The animals can defend themselves against most predators, and their thick fur keeps them warm in the harsh winters. But many of New York’s bison farms have gone out of business over the years, something Dorreen attributed to strict USDA regulations. Though bison have roamed American plains for generations, the USDA considers bison exotic, and farmers have to adhere to lots of regulations that cattle farmers don’t have to adhere to, according to Dorreen.
Socially, Bison aren’t like traditional cattle. They don’t like to be around humans, according to Dorreen.
“As far as they’re concerned, they want you to give them food and water and a place to stay where people stay away from them, and they’re happy,” she said.
In fact, they can be dangerous to humans. Although they appear somewhat slow, they can outrun people and can be aggressive. Bison also have something akin to a pecking order within their herd.
“They look nice and docile, they look slow and ponderous,” she said. “They’re not. They’re just not. They’re an extremely agile animal.”
The bison on the Ossenkops’ farm are fed grain and hay.
What’s for sale
Bison meat — which the Adirondack Buffalo Company sells — is very lean, more than beef, according to Dorreen.
“It really needs a lower flame. Cook it low and slow. It will cook faster than beef because it doesn’t have all of that insulating fat,” she said. “It’s a really good meat. I like it because it’s leaner.”
The Adirondack Buffalo Company’s storefront has much more than meat. It also offers jams, barbecue sauces and a variety of different food items.
“We sell fresh produce from the garden, baked goods which we bake at home in our commercial kitchen. We also get a lot of gourmet canned goods,” Dorreen said. “We have another room that has souvenirs and things like that, and another room that’s mostly furniture and bigger items, vintage furniture and some rustic-type furniture.”
The store also has a room with used books, videos and various things that they take in on consignment from local crafters and artisans.
The bison can be seen anytime from an overlook outside of the Adirondack Buffalo Company storefront, but the store itself is usually open between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For the rest of the year, the store operates mostly like a curbside business, with the Ossenkops available by phone.
Business hasn’t been easy since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“It’s been up and down. It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning of the year when we weren’t open at all,” Dorreen said. “When we did finally open, we have a limit now, only one group is allowed in the store at a time.”
But for now, the store remains open — and the bison continue to roam.