Imposing beasts far from typical Wairarapa stock

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2013
Sean Cunliffe-Steel with the bison he raises on his Wairarapa property
LOREN DOUGAN/Fairfax NZ
RARE SIGHT: Sean Cunliffe-Steel with the bison he raises on his Wairarapa property. He is raising them as breeding stock, with any calves to be sold to curious lifestylers or farmers looking to increase their beef-yield by crossing them with cattle.

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Wairarapa's Sean Cunliffe-Steel isn't interested in any run-of-the-mill farm animals.

After growing up with pet lions and zebras in Zimbabwe, the tiler is raising American bison, or buffalo, on his four-hectare property east of Masterton.

He bought seven of the animals 3 years ago, and now has one bull and four heifers, after selling two.

"I just like looking at them, they're so big and impressive," he said.

"When we're swimming in the pool they come right up to the wall, the kids are splashing about and they're about two metres away."

Mr Cunliffe-Steel is raising the beasts as breeding stock, with any calves to be sold to curious lifestylers or farmers looking to increase their beef-yield by crossing them with cattle.

Bull calves could fetch up to $4000 each and heifers up to $6000, he said.

Known for their size, bison bulls can grow to 2 metres tall, 4m long, and weigh more than 1000kg.

"You've got to be very wary," he said. "I won't walk across [their] paddock, I'll always be on my [quad] bike, because they're so powerful and they're really fast."

Mr Cunliffe-Steel has lived in Masterton for nine years, and runs a tiling business which takes him around Wellington and Wairarapa.

He was born and raised in Zimbabwe.

"Because I grew up in Africa I was used to being around wild animals.

"My sister had a pet lion and a pet zebra, it was just natural."

Before coming to New Zealand he spent 11 years in the United States, where he first saw bison on a visit to Yellowstone Park.

While he has no plans to buy more of the beasts, there might nevertheless be more on the way soon.

Two of his heifers are "looking pretty large" and could give birth in the next few months, he said.

"I'm hoping I'll go out into the paddock one day and there'll be a couple of little brown [calves] amongst them.

"That would be great."

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- The Dominion Post

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