Chris and Claire Johnson are raising a herd of uniquely colored and textured cattle at their Buffalo Dream Ranch in far northwestern Comanche County near the western boundary of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.
The Lawton Constitution reports that the 400-acre ranch is a combination of prairie, wilderness and rock. It is inhabited by Belted Galloway cattle, beef cattle that originated in Scotland during the 1700s and 1800s. The Johnsons have been raising the cattle for six years since returning to Lawton.
"I was studying breeds," Claire Johnson said. "We wanted to do a niche market — no commercial cows or feedlots."
Claire Johnson said the Galloway cattle are recognizable by their shaggy coats similar to that of buffalo. She said it is believed the Galloways evolved from an early Celtic breed in the rugged hills of southwestern Scotland. The animals became known for their shaggy coat, hardiness and thriftiness of grass. Although most Galloway breeds are black, several other colors are also found in the breed. All Galloway cattle are polled with no horns.
The origin of the belted color pattern is not clear, but it occurs in several breeds found in different places. Beneath its flashy appearance is a very practical animal that is well-adapted to cold, rugged climates. The cattle grow shaggy coats of hair in the winter and shed the long hair in the summer, allowing them to tolerate warmer climates than most cold-adaptable cattle. They are medium in size, with cows weighing about 1,200 pounds and bulls about 1,800 pounds.
Belted Galloways have been imported to the United States since the early 1940s. They can be marketed in a variety of specialty niches, including grass-fed and organic beef. The long body conformation increases production of higher-priced cuts of beef, and hides can be used to make rugs.
Claire Johnson added that Belted Galloway have leaner meat, of exceptional quality, than other breeds.
"We're breeding heifers and bulls to breed," she said. "And we raise them in a low-stress environment, which contributes to the higher quality."
Chris Johnson said the process of loading up the cattle for visits to the veterinarian or to market also contributes to their higher quality.
"We stand behind our cows when the trailer is loaded. We don't have them getting all jacked up," he said.
He said that during extreme heat the cattle cool off in ponds or under shade trees. He said the temperament and characteristics are similar to other cattle, but "They have genetic and behavioral differences and are fun to look at.
"We give them a good life. If they didn't have a purpose, they wouldn't exist," he said. "Good beef is healthy food."
Claire Johnson said the leaner and higher-quality meat is because the cattle are mainly grass fed.
"We use natural products," she said.
"We treat our animals like we treat ourselves," Chris Johnson said. "The hamburger isn't the end of the process — it's part of the process."
The Johnsons also age the beef from their cattle. Their preference is not the typical American "burger on a bun" approach, but rather a burger with spinach or other veggies.
"We're up front, but we believe our beef is of high quality," Claire Johnson said. "We don't advertise it as organic. We're breeders first and beef second."
In addition to its cattle, the Buffalo Dream Ranch is also known for its beauty due to 400 acres of rolling prairie with outcrops of dark gabbroic rock and mountain wilderness with pink granite rocks. Lower parcels have diverse native and introduced grasses along with 12 ponds, some of which are spring fed. Recreational opportunities available at the ranch include camping (primitive and RV, some sites with electricity and water), cattle viewing including free-range chickens and wildlife, hiking and bouldering, bicycling, limited and specialized motorized activities, pond swimming, bird watching and geology tours.
Skills training opportunities at the ranch include welding, machining, mechanics (the art of maintenance), skillful use of prosthetics in real-world environments, and motorcycling, both beginning and advanced.