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Producing Excellence

James and Sandy Stepp

Hinton, OK

Wichita Buffalo Company at Sandy Springs Farm

Products Raised or Grown: Buffalo

Size of Operation: 140 head

In Business Since: 2000

Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit of Western Oklahoma

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2000

In the News: Watch a YouTube video featuring James Stepp

In a time when many American farmers are seeking off-farm income to support their agricultural operations, James and Sandy Stepp have bucked the trend, leaving corporate life in the city to establish what has become a successful buffalo ranch.

“I wanted to find an occupation that didn’t require as much travel as being an IT consultant did,” says James. As a hobby, he and his wife were raising six buffalo on some acreage outside Oklahoma City. Once they decided to become full-time ranchers, they purchased 320 acres in central Oklahoma and started building their two-part business from the ground up – Sandy Springs Farm, which raises the buffalo, and Wichita Buffalo Company, which processes, distributes and markets the meat. Over the past 13 years, they’ve built their herd to its current 140 head, selling their products primarily to health food stores and restaurants and at farmers' markets.

The premium, non-commodity nature of buffalo was a critical consideration for the Stepps. “Unless you’ve inherited 1,000 or 2,000 acres, you can’t raise enough cattle to make it. We needed something that had a higher value,” James says. According to James, buffalo sells for 30% - 100% more per pound than beef, primarily because of the taste and relative health benefits. The Stepps also raise their buffalo as naturally as possible, an approach of growing interest among some consumers. The company doesn’t use hormones or antibiotics, although they do vaccinate and treat ill animals medically. “We try to raise them the way they lived before we came along,” says James.

The future looks very bright for the Stepps. One reason is that demand for buffalo meat is increasing, which, combined with a limited supply, is driving prices up. The Stepps are also working with Farm Credit of Central Oklahoma on a facility expansion that will add processing capabilities that are currently outsourced, giving them more control over the quality of their products. They’ll also be able to process new product lines they’re planning, including jerky, snack sticks and summer sausage. The expanded facility will also support their already diverse agri-tourism efforts, which include catered events as well as educational activities that range from weaving baskets to tanning hides to making arrowheads and bows.