Get to know the ranchers behind the bison
MEET THE FAMILY
Kyle Benjamin Reynolds
“We also want to foster additional relationships with Native American tribes.” Currently, BLB’s processing partner is the Quapaw Nation Food Authority. “There’s so much crossover and connection between what we’re doing and what the tribal nations as a whole are doing to promote their own heritage and bring back some of their original values and trade.”Visit Profile
Austin Lee Puckett
“You want meat that you don’t have to feel bad about, that was really cared for while it was living. We put love into what we’re doing and we’re producing something we think is a better alternative to faceless factory farming.”Visit Profile
“The bison are her focus, 'if it wasn't for the bison, we wouldn't be in this business. There are a lot of meat businesses and ranches out there, it is our bison and how we treat them that makes us special.'"Visit Profile
Kyle Benjamin Reynolds
Kyle Benjamin Reynolds' role at Benjamin Lee Bison is co-founder, thought leader and culinary curator. Kyle
lives in Rogers, Arkansas with his wife Amy and their three children: Lila, 7, Anne Douglas, 4, and Hardin, 1 ½.
He grew up in the small, south-central Arkansas town of Sheridan and worked on a neighbor’s farm from a young age, gaining fame at age 5 when he made the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by selling cabbage for a dollar a head. “I’ve always had this drive, this connection to nature, making sure we take care of what’s been provided to us. Bison fit right into that,” he said.
With an undergraduate degree in writing from Central ArkansasUniversity, followed by law school at the University of Arkansas, he began his career as an attorney specializing in contract work in the oil and gas industry. He and Austin Puckett met in Oklahoma City, where Kyle and his family were living then and where the two men began discussing the idea of partnering to work on a business diversified from the energy industry. Austin’s parents had a family ranch operation—which at the time included a few bison and elk—and they sought to raise bison exclusively as a standalone business. “We bought the adjacent tracts of land and continued to aggregate over the last several years taking over operations of Austin’s parents farm and ending up with 2,200 acres. BLB runs that entire operation today.”
Kyle is excited about plans to make the ranch truly regenerative. “So, we’re going to be adding chickens.” They not only spread the bison manure, but with its high level of ammonia nitrate, “chicken manure will allow us to keep the quality of the soil up and give us better field rotation. We want to go the extra mile to make sure we’re as natural as possible.”
The young company, which gives ranch tours to interested people, plans to go a step further in the future by hosting groups such as school children, university research groups or families who want to come on a weekend to see the animals. “It’s a differentiator for us, as we are a working ranch. With that will come some structural improvements,” Kyle said. Another expansion will entail increasing the total herd size to 1,000 animals. “We also want to foster additional relationships with Native American tribes.” Currently, BLB’s processing partner is the Quapaw Nation Food Authority. “There’s so much crossover and connection between what we’re doing and what the tribal nations as a whole are doing to promote their own heritage and bring back some of their original values and trade."
On the personal side, Kyle’s favorite cuts of bison meat are skirt and flank steaks. “I like doing fajitas and Asian stir fry. They cook fast because bison has less fat. A margarita or Mexican beer goes great with lime fajitas. People know I’m a foodie but most don’t know that I’m artsy and that I enjoy creative writing, though with three kids it’s hard to find time for it. I journal a lot and have notes on my phone—inspirations, song lyrics, poetry rambles. I like to write funny stories for my kids, and I try to capture the funny things they say.”
His hope for the next generation is that they’ll take a lesson from the bison to see how quickly something in nature can be destroyed. By clear-cutting a forest to build more houses or damming a river, “you can take too much from nature.” This is why awareness and education are so important to Kyle and the BLB family. “By letting people get closer to these animals they can see how beautiful they are. Bison are the largest and most powerful land animal, and truly a symbol of what America is—freedom, free roaming, and having a can-do attitude.”
Austin Lee Puckett
The Lee in the name Benjamin Lee Bison belongs to co-owner Austin Lee Puckett. Austin, a Sayre, Oklahoma
native actually lived on the family owned original land dating back to the early 1900s. During World War I, the
army compensated landowners for use of their land to test carpet bombs, and Austin’s grandfather “as a kid
was messing with one of these little missiles that he thought was a dud, and it blew up on him. Doctors didn’t
think he’d ever walk again, but he recovered.”
Recovery. It’s in Austin’s DNA, a passion to regenerate exhausted soil and recover native grasses and add other nutritious forage on the 2,200 acres of the BLB ranch. The Dust Bowl of the ‘30s blew sheets of sand across the land, “like what you’d see in the Sahara,” Austin explained. Regenerating that land is a tough challenge calling for strenuous exertion of mind and muscle. With a degree in economics, entrepreneurship and new business venture from the University of Oklahoma, as well as his deep knowledge of plant science coupled with hard work, Austin is seeing things turn around. He implemented a system of pasture rotation, planting, and building soil through grazing that’s led to the robust growth of nutrient-rich grasses like native long-stem bluegrass, drought-resistant Bermuda grass and love grass. “Healthy grass makes healthy bison,” he says.
Animal husbandry is another field of expertise. He helps develop plans for rotational grazing to determine which pastures the animals will be moved to and works the bison, running them through the chutes, checking their weights and making sure they’re healthy. “Just like us, bison like novelty. Say they’ve been eating rye hay and you put down some peanut hay, they will attack the peanut hay.”
Some fun stuff about Austin. He owns a home in Oklahoma City and a home on the ranch. His long-time girlfriend is Jessi Deardorf. He’s a private pilot and flies his Mooney four-seater for business and other travel. He loves everything outdoors—riding his horses, skiing, being at the lake and mountains, and shooting a bow, which he says is meditative and relaxing. He also does metalworking and woodworking. When it comes to his favorite cut of bison meat, it’s strip steak all the way, but he also loves skirt or hanger steak for fajitas, and raves about Jessi’s recipes. Best accompanying beverages are beer, Tempranillo wine and Zacapa rum.
Clearly an understatement, Austin says he’s not a fan of factory farming. “For us, it’s not running cattle through a feedlot where they live on top of manure piles stacked next to each other. And it’s not chickens that spend 6-8 weeks of their life growing as fast as they can and then get dumped into a slaughter pot. We are real people that put our real time and energy into this ranch. You want meat that you don’t have to feel bad about, that was really cared for while it was living. We put love into what we’re doing and we’re producing something we think is a better alternative to that sort of faceless factory farming.” When he and Kyle were first thinking of raising bison, they started running numbers to see if there were enough people who felt as they did. He soon found out there are several thousand customers who care to invest in healthier bison meat to feel good about.
Austin has deep respect and appreciation for bison, and says some of them “are kind of friends. But they’re not a domesticated animal with temperament traits bred into them. Some are wonderful, some them are crazy. They are themselves and they are the herd. Like people, they’re walking contradictions. As a herd, they’re intrinsically curious. If you’re doing something in a field, you’ll look up and they’ll be two or three of them standing there watching you, and you’ll look back up and there will be forty of them, and if you look back up the whole damn herd’s over there half-mooned at what you’re doing.” He says that though they’re fiercely independent, they can’t help their herd instincts. “If one of them runs, they’re all gonna run with them.”
Ultimately to Austin, bison means legacy "of what our past has been. It’s an animal that fought through an intended extermination and is still here despite our efforts to kill them off. This is not our story; this is their story. They’ll be here whether we’re here or not, and hopefully we can help them go on living and thriving.”
Her official title is sales and marketing, but that just scratches the surface of Jessi Deardorf’s workload. You will see her building and coding their website, driving a tractor, packing and shipping orders, organizing thousands of pounds of bison, designing marketing plans, managing the operations and logistics, working bison, managing USDA regulations, manning their booth at the local farmers market, taking and editing thousands of bison pictures, building fences and clearing land, growing the company, and the list goes one! Maybe “wearer of many hats” best suits her role. But one thing she can label herself as, is a female in ranching – “there’s not anything I can’t do that a man can do when it comes to ranching,” she likes to say.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in supply chain management, logistics and operations, Jessi pursued a career in professional recruiting in Oklahoma City where she then transitioned into a sales role and ultimately into internal recruiting for the company. It is in these roles where she blossomed in her career and learned to excel in one of the toughest trades out here, the business of people. And now, thanks to her connection with Austin Puckett, BLB co-owner, she is now in the business of bison! Several years after meeting Austin, his bison business began to take shape and they needed an extra hand and she traded in her heels for a pair of work boots to join the family business. Her smarts and skills as well as her willingness to get her hands dirty have positioned the company as a leader in a niche market – a customer-centered online store for buying premium bison meat.
Jessi grew up in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area where she was active in the arts. As a lover of music and dance she has 16 years combined of music experience and performance as well as 16 years in competitive dance. Her excitement to step a bit outside of Texas and venture north to Oklahoma was initially a temporary plan as she had always dreamed that she would “move back to Dallas and live in a high-rise downtown” where she planned to follow in her father’s footsteps and focus on international business. However, “it took me only about 6 months to realize that Oklahoma is a better fit for me, and that country life was calling my name.” She is a combination of both a motivated business mind and a hard-working ranch hand.
For Jessi, it’s all about the bison. She names them, cherishes them, values them as the incredible and iconic animals that they are. She also knows which ones love a head scratch, the ones that love to be fed apples and pears as well as being able to read the bison and know who to avoid. The bison are her focus, “if it wasn’t for the bison, we wouldn’t be in this business. There are a lot of meat businesses and ranches out there, it is our bison and how we treat them that make us special.”
As a woman in the male-dominated ranching business, Jessi is a rarity. “I feel truly honored to be in the position I am in and to be one of the few. I love what I do, I love to talk about what I do!” She has enjoyed finding platforms to not only expose but also to promote the ranching business as an opportunity for women. Conferences like Shiftcon and the Tulsa Women’s’ Expo have been great opportunities for her to share her knowledge and her unique experiences as a woman in this industry.
Something else she’s really interested in is developing bison recipes, like her Bison Skirt Steak with Shishito Peppers and her 3-hour Bison Bolognese. She has also enjoyed taking old family recipes and elevating them by turning them into bison recipes, like her mother’s Christmas fajita recipe that she has turned into their Ultimate Bison Fajitas. In addition to creating the recipes, she loves to eat them! With this she will always find a great pairing “whether it is a crisp and light local beer to go with the skirt steak or a glass of my favorite Spanish red wine to go with the fajitas.”
But overall, what she is best at is presenting trust and transparency as well as authenticity and exceptional customer service. Breaking a nail and getting her hands dirty is only part of the job, inviting others to join their mission and spreading the word on their family raised, farm fresh bison meat – this is just Jessi on the job.