York County farm brings bison back to original stomping grounds in SC

The Tatanka Bison Ranch has 44 bison currently on their ranch

YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WOLO) —A farm that just opened its doors to the public this year is looking to make his mark on South Carolina’s burgeoning agritourism industry by bringing a unique animal back to the Palmetto State.

The Tatanka Bison Ranch, located in rural York County, gives people a chance to interact with and learn about the wonders of the bison.

Fred Ilse, the Founder and CEO of the bison ranch, says he’s always been fascinated by wildlife and agriculture ever since his time growing up in South Africa.

Once he retired from his job in 2014, he decided to start a new chapter of his life by starting a farm of his own.

“In 2015, I started looking for some farmland, found this amazing piece of land, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it,” Ilse said.

While driving through North Carolina one day, Ilse discovered some furry mammals grazing along the road, and wanted to learn more.

“I started doing some homework that these bison were actually indigenous to the Carolinas at one stage,” Ilse said.

Ilse says the last time records show a bison roaming the Carolinas was back in 1775.

Since bison have roots in the area, he thought it natural to bring them back home, and to have them graze in the fields at his farm.

Ilse says people always ask him how bison could survive in South Carolina. He says it gets hot in the prairies, and it’s not difficult for bison to get acclimated to the Carolina heat.

“This is not a zoo, we’re not bringing exotic animals into the area. They used to live here,” Ilse said.

Since he first bought land in York County, Ilse has seen his four-legged family grow and start their own chapters under his watch.

Ilse started off with 18 bison in 2015, and in three years, that number has grown to 44.

“We now have three generations out here from the time they were bred. We know their personalities, and they’re like any family, you have some crazies in there as well,” Ilse said.

It was this past June that Ilse opened up his ranch to the public, which has since seen hundreds of visitors, including several with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA).

“Every time I go there, there’s something new. How many people see bison? You don’t even see those in zoos. Any new venture that adds to people being able to go to farms is marvelous,” said Jackie Moore, the Director of Agritourism for SCDA.

Ilse says he doesn’t raise bison to make money. Instead he does it out to give back and show his support for America’s national mammal.

“Sometimes, I sit back in the evening and watch the sunset and think, ‘wow, what have I actually created out here.’ These animals are very spiritual, to me they are, I could just sit there and feel very much at ease and life generally. It’s keeping me young,” Ilse said.

There are 500,000 bison currently living in the United States, up from nearly 1,000 reported in 1890. According to the National Bison Association, there are 183,000 bison currently living on private farms.

The Tatanka Bison Farm, according to the SCDA, is the first bison farm to set up shop in the state.

For more information on how to visit the Tatanka Bison Ranch and to learn more about bison, click here.

Categories: Local News, News