READINGTON TWP. – In case you need a real sign of spring, Readington River Buffalo Farm’s Free, in-person, Red Dog Day 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 1, is sure to provide it.
On Friday April 23, there were two new baby bison on the farm, one born that morning, already up and lagging behind his mother. Farmer Erick Doyle said she only had about three hours.
Red Dog is a term for baby bison, or calves. They are born with red hair, much lighter than their mothers. They weigh only 40-45 pounds at birth, lighter than cow calves as they are wild animals and need to be upright and walk quickly after birth.
It is impossible to get too close to the herd. The females surround the babies with warning looks at intruders. The bull is in an adjacent pasture with a few younger males.
Red Dog Day will feature walking tours and hay wagon tours allowing visitors to see the herd, likely with a few more hatchlings by then. There will also be pony rides, food vendors such as Kona Ice, children’s crafts, live music, craft vendors and agricultural agencies to teach conservation, preservation, agriculture. and waterways.
The Beer Barn will be open after 1 p.m. with produce from the Enclave and Conclave Breweries in Hunterdon County.
Kids’ crafts will make paper from recycled sources, assemble small birdhouses, and color them.
Doyle said masks will be required and all necessary precautions will be taken.
There are currently about 70 bison on the farm. There were as many as 120, but Doyle worried about overgrazing and is now keeping less.
He and his wife, Kristen Doyle, have devoted a great deal of time to water and soil conservation since taking over the management of the farm from his parents, Gerry, a chemist, and Scarlett, a town planner, in 1998.
Rills and drainage basins, one of which becomes a good sized pond during wet seasons, maintain soil on pastures and help create a good grazing environment.
Gerry and Scarlett Doyle purchased the preserved 235-acre farm while still living in Bedminster. They wanted a hobby farm and chose to breed bison after visiting a bison ranch and restaurant during a visit to Erick, Colorado, where he moved after college. They now live on a farm overlooking the herds.
Erick Doyle says his parents brought farmland preservation to Bedminster. He started farming with limited experience and admits to making mistakes which he is working to correct. He works with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to maintain the quality of the soil and air on his farm.
He admits that he took some land out of production to keep the groundwater healthy. Pleasant Run, which crosses the property, has just been named C-1 Creek by the State Department of Environmental Protection, the highest classification. Doyle built structures to keep the soil from eroding into the creek.
“It’s a job done for the farm but which benefits the community,” he said.
He has 100 acres of hay and 100 acres of pasture. The farm also raises beef cattle and pigs. The Doyles sell meat at an on-site farm store.
The pandemic nearly caused the cancellation of Red Dog Day, Doyle said. On the one hand, he was worried that he would not have calves to show because the breeding season was late. His bull died last year and he had to travel to Virginia, near the West Virginia border, to purchase another.
Fortunately, he returned just before the travel restrictions from that state. He was also concerned about the presence of people on the farm, but takes all necessary precautions.
“As a responsible landowner, I’m going to be too careful,” he said.
Events such as Red Dog Day are helpful in keeping the farm profitable, he said. A member of the State Committee for Agricultural Development (SADC), Doyle, said he was working to change laws restricting special events on the farm. Agrotourism helps farms stay profitable.
The event is to promote the farm product, Doyle said, which Red Dog Day certainly does. SADC is trying to help farmers realize their potential, Doyle said.
Kristen Doyle worked as a stationery maker before their wedding, so she learned how weddings and other big events go. It has been a big help in organizing events on the farm, said Erick Doyle. Their teenage daughters, Piper and Sadie, are not enthusiastic farmers, he noted.
Entrance and parking for the Red Dog Days event are both free.
The farm is located at 937 County Route 523 in the Whitehouse Station section of the township.