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Births of two calves expand Unicoi buffalo herd

Contributed Photo • Two new buffalo calves have joined the herd at a farm owned by former Unicoi mayor Johnny Lynch.

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County has two new residents that former Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch is proud to welcome to Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens, which he owns with his wife, Pat.

Lynch welcomed two baby buffalo calves to his herd earlier this month. 

“We had two calves born a little over a week ago,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.

Centuries ago thousands of buffalo journeyed through the valley and created most of the paths that are used as roads today throughout East Tennessee. As they did in most areas, the large but agile animals gradually  disappeared from the eastern half of the United States. 

“Originally the buffalo roamed free from the Eastern Seaboard all the way to the Rocky Mountains,” Lynch said. “There were an estimated 60 million buffalo. By 1901, there was something like 700. They almost became extinct.”

However, the American buffalo, also known as bison, roams in the Buffalo Valley once again after the arrival of several buffaloes to the area thanks to Lynch’s efforts. 

Lynch said he brought the first buffalo back to the Town of Unicoi several years ago. 

Contributed Photo • A buffalo cow helps a calf steady itself on its legs.

“We now have 14 buffalo here,” Lunch said. “Overall in the United States, there are about 500,000 buffaloes today.”

One of the biggest obstacles he faced when relocating the buffaloes was getting a fence that could hold the wild animals. 

“Not only are they large and wild, but buffalo are extremely fast and agile,” Lynch said. “They can outrun a horse and stop on a dime.” 

Contributed Photo • A calf enjoys a meal of fresh buffalo milk.

Once the fence was in place, the buffalo followed. The females were brought in from Paint Bank, Virginia, and the bull was brought in from Wolcottville, Indiana. Lynch stated that it is currently mating season, which can run up until October. If the mating takes, then in nine months there may be new additions to the Unicoi herd.

Due to the size of the buffalo, the birthing process occurs naturally with no outside help. Lynch said that the mother will separate from the herd to give birth. 

After the calf is born, the mother will keep the calf away from the herd for a few days to allow it to get acclimated. The calves are cinnamon colored when they are born and eventually become a darker shade of brown.

The proud father, Sammy, is happy to pose for photos while the cows and calves are a little more reserved. Buffalo live to be around 30 and the oldest ones on site are about three years old.

There are many other features besides the main attraction to see while visiting Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens. Roaming around the grounds are numerous peacocks, bees, otters, rabbits, groundhogs and other wildlife that live in or around a series of ponds on the property.

Classes from all over the region, including East Tennessee State University, come to study the ecosystem cultivated at the local attraction.

“The students love seeing the buffaloes,” Lynch said. 

Not far from the pond is a bakery, complete with an earthen oven. Pat Lynch bakes fresh bread and other items in the bakery, often filling the air with the scent of cinnamon.

For more updates and a schedule of events at the Lynch Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens, please visit the Facebook pages of both the Town of Unicoi and Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens.