Minnesota Bison Association
Helping Members Successfully Raise and Promote Bison

December 2018: War Road Buffalo Ranch

Warroad, Minnesota

Mike Marvin

war-road2A Marvin Window truck leaving Warroad with windows is a daily occurrence. However, when that semi returns back to Warroad and unloads live buffalo—that is something new and different. Forty six years ago on a route back from Rapid City, a Marvin driver pulled into Murdo, SD and loaded calves at Don Hight’s ranch. The arrival of those calves in our town marked the beginning of the War Road Buffalo Ranch.

In looking back at 1972, I would have to admit that it seemed that only fools and dreamers owned buffalo. I know I was a bit of both. I grew up in a resort family with no experience in farming or ranching. My first pasture was wooded acreage that was in the process of being turned into a golf course. A couple of years later I moved to an 80 acre parcel on the main highway coming into Warroad. For the next 25 years every fisherman coming from the west would view my herd as they headed to Lake of the Woods and their favorite walleye hotspot.

In 2000, I bought 360 acres, took down my existing fences and corral and moved all the animals to this new location. My purchase had the hesitant approval from my wife, Connie, a high school French teacher. More than one of her paychecks were routed to the ranch (which I was at times reminded of). It was easy to second guess this new investment as the buffalo prices plummeted soon after we finalized the purchase.

I fenced all 360 acres with a perimeter fence of 48 inch wire mesh topped by two strands of barbed wire. Inside fences that separated the five grazing paddocks and three hay fields all were done with four barbed wire. When the herd was moved to the new ranch, I made sure the corral was secure. One of the best purchases I have made was the 24’ by 6’ panels made of sucker rod. They provide such flexibility whenever a design change to the corral is needed. The company that sold them to me advertised them as: Horse high, bull strong, and hog tight and that is what they are. My handling facility is a Linn product purchased from and installed by Dan Meyer. Tub, alley, squeeze chute and head gate all situated in a three-sided roofed shed. Within the corral I have five 30 inch wide guillotine gates that are operated with ropes and pulleys. This allows me to do much of the separation and release from outside pens.

The most animals I have had is 90. As of today, I have 19 cows with no plans to increase. Over the years, breeding stock has come from Don Hight, Doug Earl of Grand Forks, Duane Hayes from Bagley, and Dale Rengstorf. In 2012, my daughter and I drove to western Manitoba to buy a woods/plains bull from the Silver Creek Bison Ranch. Silver Creek has a herd of 1300 and is known throughout western Canada for their quality animals.
During the 15 years that I was a restaurant owner, we featured buffalo burgers on our menu. The challenge was that the FDA-approved butchering plant was 90 miles away and over time went out of business. For the last 12 years, I have been fortunate in being able to sell my calves to two great guys: Dave Geiss and now Eric Joens.

It is important for me to be able to thank Gail Griffin, Dale Rengstorf and the many others that have served our association over the years. Other than paying my dues and working a couple of shifts at the state fair, I have not been an active member. Warroad is on the Manitoba border which puts us miles from everyone. For years my sister and I have owned a restaurant that was all day, every day, all year long. Warroad bills itself and Windows, Walleye and Hockey. When it came time to travel, our family chose hockey. Our son Aaron played in three state tournaments, then at Division One St. Cloud and pro hockey in Norway.


Our daughter, Gigi, played for the Gophers, 12 years in the US National program, seven World Championships and three Olympic medals: Silver 2010, Silver 2014, and Gold this past year in Korea. She is also the proud owner of cow tag #19 (her jersey number).

Our family wishes you a Merry Christmas, that you enjoy good health and that your animals are always on the right side of the fence.


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