Bison B&B More About Branding Than Farming

2/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Tabitha Goodling Central Pa. Correspondent

RICHFIELD, Pa. — The Bison Farm II Bed and Breakfast feasts upon the second part of its name.

Owner Brian Sheeler said the Juniata County, Pa., farming business is 90 percent about the boarding and 10 percent about the day-to-day farming, but it’s the second part that requires the hardest work.

Bison, he said, are a nice feature for visitors to adore, but not exactly a profitable farm operation on its own.

Currently four Plains bison graze the 15-acre farm along with a Texas longhorn and three Scottish Highlander cattle.

The business began in 1998 when Sheeler and his wife, Janet, purchased two bison from the western part of the U.S. The name Bison Farm II came from those first two animals.

The goal from the beginning, he said, was to have a bed and breakfast and allow the bison to be the selling factor.

“I’ve been to bed and breakfasts all over the United States. I love to travel. Going to a bed and breakfast is how you find out where everything is. You talk to the people. I always loved that,” he said.

Sheeler’s grandparents farmed beef cattle when he was a child, and he wanted to farm on a smaller scale of his own.

Bison, he said, intrigued him because they are a native American animal. Cattle originated in Europe. Bison have always been here.

“People come here just to look at the bison,” he said.

Many folks, upon hearing the name of the business, think either it is strictly a full-running bison farm or simply a bed and breakfast with bison in the name only.

What they find is a picturesque setting against the mountains with bison roaming the fields as guests enjoy a homemade breakfast and an overnight stay.

Janet Sheeler cooks for the guests and keeps the bed and breakfast business in order. A gift shop is on site, and bison meat is also for sale, although not from the farm’s bison but rather, meat that is purchased from farms outside the area.

“A lot of people come here to get the bison meat for health reasons,” Brian Sheeler said, noting that it is considered healthier than beef, with no hormones and little fat.

“The biggest challenge is they are wild animals. They would rather run you over,” he said.

Females weigh about 800 pounds while a male can be up to 2,000 pounds.

“They do not like eye-to-eye contact,” he said. “They’re not afraid. If you shoot a gun in the air, most animals run. They’ll come right toward you.”

Feeding the bison is sometimes a challenge. Sheeler said that petting the animal’s head may be okay for a moment, but you can turn your back and the animal may charge.

The Sheelers have chosen not to have a full operating bison farm for many reasons. The biggest is that the profit is not substantial.

“We just couldn’t afford a 300-acre farm,” Sheeler said, adding that bison also do better living out West, where the minerals in the ground are better for them.

“Bison need a lot of room” to roam, he said.

“Feeding is a ton of work,” he said. “They eat a ton of hay.”

The bed and breakfast, on the other hand, has drawn people from 35 states and eight countries. Six guest rooms with private baths in each room are available year-round.

The bed and breakfast was completed in 2002, and an expansion was done in 2009.

The Sheelers chose to keep the name in Internet address form in travel brochures so people will go directly to their website — They are also on Facebook.

“I’m surprised how well we do here in Richfield,” Brian Sheeler said, adding that the location has turned out to be a good stopping point for folks attending graduations at Penn State in State College, Pa., Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., or Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa.

The business also generates attention from many wedding parties and is busy during the fall foliage months.

But the No. 1 attraction is the <\n>bison.

“People are just intrigued by them,” he said.

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