Naturally, when I heard about this, I knew where our next stop would be on our way to Calgary: the Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch. What better way to see buffalo, elk and reindeer! You can drive a thousand miles, train through the Rockies, walk forest paths and not come upon a single buffalo, elk or reindeer. Here was a ranch that had them in herds; that fed them, nurtured them, kept them healthy and happy before they slaughtered them for your dining pleasure.
The man in charge of the 540 acre ranch is Dr. Terry Church, an affable veterinarian, a grandfather, cowboy, and surrogate father to a four-month old orphan buffalo the size of a Shetland pony. Terry was easy to talk to and enjoyed showing us around the ranch. The baby buffalo lived in a pen behind his house and drank milk from a plastic jug that Terry held for him. Then the buffalo licked and nibbled on Terry’s fingers, following him wherever we walked. It was like a pet dog or ferret, only it was a buffalo. “I think in another month or two he’ll be too big and strong to handle this way,” Terry said. “But right now, he thinks I’m his mother.”
“All he knows is where his food is coming from.”
“Will he one day be someone’s dinner?” I asked.
“I don’t know, that’s a tough one. My granddaughter would probably not like that. He’s like part of the family right now. We’ll just have to see what happens when he gets bigger.”
“How long do they live before they’re moved to the slaughterhouse?”
“Depends on the animal. The male buffaloes, usually 24 to 30 months. The females, three years. The elk females can go to thirteen or fifteen years, the males three. After that time the meat gets tougher. But all our animals are well cared for. And they don’t know what’s in store for them. Game animals are more prone to stress, so we do our best to treat them well. This is a fully integrated operation—we raise the game and process it for the resort properties. There are three cornerstones for farming game: They need proper conditions, low stress handling, and proper processing.”
“What’s so proper about the processing?” I wondered.
“How they are chilled, cut, and aged. We take a lot of care in how we deal with our animals.”
“How come there are no moose?”
“Moose are difficult to ranch,” Terry said. “You require 150 acres per moose, so it’s just not practical.”
We got into Terry’s pickup and drove out to take a look at the elk, which were friendly and curious about us. Then we visited the buffalo, magnificent beasts that let us get within a stone’s throw of them. And finally the docile reindeer with those crazy looking antlers branching out in all directions. They were all living the life of Reilly—that is, a pretty easy life where they were free to roam on spacious grounds, fed yummy alfalfa hay, broome grass hay and green oat hay, along with whole oats and cervid supplement pellets. They were safe from hunters, poachers, wolves, and harsh winter foraging conditions. They just weren’t going to live out their lives in such luxury.
When Terry suggested we go for lunch at his favorite restaurant, The Ranche, I thought it a good idea, as long as he understood that I didn’t have an appetite for buffalo burger, elk steak or reindeer McNuggets.
“Not to worry,” he laughed. “They make a great ahi tuna sandwich.”
Once in Calgary we checked into the Hotel Arts—for my money, the best hotel in Calgary. The room was spacious, the king size bed nice and hard, and the flat screen TV on the wall made the room feel like a theater for two. We weren’t that hungry, but it was our last night in Canada and we wanted to make it memorable. So besides the wonderful hotel we made our way to the River Café in Prince’s Island Park, where one last chef’s tasting menu was being prepared. Did we have room for the shitake mushroom tortilla, the Muscovy duck prosciutto, the grilled lobster, poached octopus, fresh shucked scallops, tomato gazpacho, beet salad, wild spring salmon, country bison stirploin, quail, and Okanagan watermelon and clover honey consommé with different wines for each course?
What do you think?
This was Canada.
We were heading back home the next day.
My celebrity was waiting to give me more stress.
My daughter was either going to tell us she got engaged or she was back on the market.
My friends would try their best to ignore their indiscretions.
Were we hungry at the River Café?
You bet we were.
And drank each golden glass of wine.
And enjoyed every last minute of our time in Canada.
The land that made us forget real time.