“Welcome to Bison Country” is something you can expect to hear when you arrive at Johnson’s South Fork Ranch owned by local man Bob Johnson and his wife, Karen.
"I love having the Bison on the ranch and I am looking forward to the new five calves being born," Bob said.
Dr. Edward T. Balch, who homesteaded the land, established the ranch in 1865. In the early 1900’s, Frank and Francis Rzonsa, who emigrated from Poland, purchased the ranch and began a dairy, poultry, and pork operation. As the Rzonsa family worked their way through the naturalization process to gain citizenship in the United States, they changed their last name to Johnson; thus becoming the first generation of Johnson’s to live on and farm the ranch.
Bob and Karen had four children, including Anne, Joe, Mike, and Sophia. They would be the second generation of Johnson’s to grow up and live on the ranch. Sophia passed away at an early age and Anne and Joe left the family home to move to Seattle and Longview, but Mike continued to live near the ranch and assist his parents with the work that needed to be done.
After Frank passed away, Mike, along with his son, Bob continued to carry on the family tradition of maintaining the ranch and farming the land. After Bob’s father, Mike, passed away in 1980, Bob continued to maintain and run the ranch as a hay operation. In 1986, Bob’s son, Ron, established a part-time residence, which added him as the fourth generation of Johnson’s to live on and farm the land.
In 1991, Bob and his wife, Karen, built a home and moved onto the farm and began to replace fences, buildings, and change operations as well as some other maintenance work that needed to be done. A Chehalis apple orchard along with Blueberries and Rhubarb were added to the agricultural mix. They also added Polled Hereford Cattle and Bison to the farmstead.
"Taking care of the Bison is a family tradition, and I hope it will be one for the next few generations," Bob said.
The types of Bison they own are referred to as Plains Bison. Currently, they own six bison, five females and one very large male named Bubba, who weighs in at approximately 2,800 pounds. They have five new Bison calves that are due to be born soon.
“They are very social animals but they will let you know if you are getting to close or upsetting them by sticking their tail up and stomping their hooves on the ground.” Bob warns.
"Bison are very unique animals,” Bob said. “The reason they have the long chin hairs is because they are plains animals. They would use their chin hair to brush the snow out of the way so they could look for food."
In 1994, Bob’s son, Rob, built a permanent residence on the ranch where he continues to carry on the family tradition. With the birth of Rob’s daughter Janessa, she made added the fifth generation of Johnson’s to live on the farm. Janessa owns two Polled Hereford cows and a two-year-old bison heifer.
To preserve the farm and keep it sustainable, the farmland has been committed to agricultural open space ensuring a protected future for the ranch. The Johnson Family works with the Washington State Farm Bureau, Washington State Grange, and the Washington Farm Forestry Association to preserve farm and timberland and to promote family farming.
Johnson’s South Fork Ranch is a private bison ranch in Pacific County. Visitors are always welcome to visit them in “Bison Country.”