Columbiana couple raise curious herd

By KATHLEEN JOHNSTON / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Neighbors might remember the day a man drove his Mule down Highway 70, dangling a white feed bucket behind him. Those stopped in traffic both ways, along with the Columbiana Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and State Highway Patrol, had an up close view of Glynn Durrett Jr. luring a line of buffalo back home.

Curiosity and a desire to fill free time after retiring from the Fairfield Fire Department led Durrett to buy some bison and create his own home sweet home on the range – 32 acres in Columbiana, that is.

Why buffalo? The self-declared city slicker answered simply: “They’re really easy to take care of.”

Of course, ease is relative.

The bison don’t require the hands-on attention of other animals, but they’re still animals.

“When he told me that he was going to get some buffalo to eat grass out there so he wouldn’t have to Bush Hog anymore, I said, “Have you lost your mind?’ because I knew how much trouble the cattle could be,” said Wanda Durrett, who grew up on a farm in south Alabama with as many as 600 head of cattle.

And what makes the bison easier – mainly that they are not domesticated – is exactly what makes them harder. Though the couple increasingly think of the herd as part of the family, they must constantly remember the large animals’ wild nature.

“You can get hurt easily not really meaning to,” Wanda Durrett said. “You have to pay attention.”

Especially as an animal person, she said she tends to trust the bison more than she should. It’s resulted in a few close calls for the Hoover firefighter, the most recent of which happened just after the second calf was born about two weeks ago. Wanda Durrett went to feed the new mother by hand, as she and her husband do each day with the whole herd, and the now protective momma charged her.

“It’s hard for us to remember, but we have to remember they are still wild animals,” she said, grateful the near 1,000-pound bison stopped short of flattening her.

As with most people who keep the continent’s largest land mammal, the Durretts said they plan to raise the bison for meat. Glynn Durrett, though, admitted, “They’ve become such pets to me, I don’t know that I could kill one myself.”

Public interest in bison meat has risen, even in this unlikely area, as research continues to show it contains less fat and cholesterol and more protein than beef. It even has less cholesterol than skinless chicken or turkey.

“A ribeye from a bison tastes like the best filet mignon you have ever put in your mouth, and it is so healthy for you,” Wanda Durrett said.

The meat is even worth more per pound than other types, but the bison business remains less lucrative than the South’s more traditional livestock farming, as the wild animals don’t mature or put meat on as quickly as cattle.

“It’s kind of like a money pit instead of a money-making proposition,” Wanda Durrett said.

But her husband, who continues to run his own homebuilding company, doesn’t seem to mind.

“When I come home in the afternoons, they come up to me just like a dog,” he said