His name is Wobble. Home is not on the range, but in a fenced, grassy pasture along Sunnyside Boulevard near Ebey Slough.
At 25, Wobble is what Jeannine Fleming describes as “a lone buffalo.”
Fleming, who moved to a home near Lake Stevens in April, recently sent email to The Herald asking about the mighty animal she sees while driving on Sunnyside. “I wonder why it’s a lone buffalo, wonder about its history, how it came to be there, and whether its owners might find it a companion,” she wrote.
A visit Monday to the 70-acre property of Paul and Ruth Brandal brought answers.
“He was born on our farm in 1992,” said Ruth Brandal, a 62-year-old nurse. “He was premature, only 26 pounds at birth. He nearly died.”
The Brandals raised bison, and had as many as 90 animals, from the early 1990s until 2005, when they sold their herd. They called their land Bisondalen. They sold grass-fed bison meat at the farm and to restaurants, including Captain Buffalo’s, a now-closed Everett eatery.
They also hosted school groups. Kids took wagon rides to see the herd. “Our big green barn still has a buffalo painted on it,” Ruth Brandal said.
About that name — buffalo. There are Asian water buffalo and the African Cape buffalo. Like American bison, Asian and African buffalo are in the Bovidae family. Early settlers mistakenly called American bison “bufello,” according to the Modern Farmer newsletter. Wrong as it is, buffalo became the familiar term.
Nature turned the Brandals into bison ranchers.
In late 1990, the year a November storm sank the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington, a small herd of buffalo on Ebey Island was flooded out. Ruth Brandal said the animals swam across the Snohomish River. “They ended up on our farm. We were trying to figure out whose buffalo they were,” she said.
The Brandals eventually leased their land to the herd’s owner. In time, they purchased about 50 bison from the man who owned the other herd. Wobble, born May 30, 1992, was the first bison to begin life on their farm.
Paul Brandal, 64, is retired after working as a general contractor and as a custodian with the Everett School District. They have been foster parents. Ruth Brandal works at the Hospice Care Center at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
Wobble, a shaggy behemoth weighing about 1,800 pounds, had a precarious start in life. Born too soon, he weighed 26 pounds. A newborn bison normally weighs about 50 pounds. They took him to Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, where bovine specialist Dr. Earl Aalseth gave Ruth Brandal instructions to try to keep the little calf alive.
It involved an IV in the calf’s neck and a feeding tube down his throat “to put milk in his stomach,” Ruth Brandal said.
She recalled one foster child praying for little Wobble as they cared for the animal in their kitchen. The boy “put his arm around the calf’s neck, and shut his eyes really tight,” she said. “I was on the other side of the kitchen asking that God answer that child’s prayers.”
Several weeks later, when Wobble was able to suck milk, she sent a letter thanking the veterinarian for his help.
“He called and said, ‘Are you kidding? That calf lived?’ ” she recalled. The bison’s name came from his frailty. “He had such wobbly legs, he couldn’t stand up,” she said.
Although they were in the bison meat business, Wobble was a special friend, never meant to be a meal. “I was his mommy,” Ruth Brandal said. “We took him to the Strawberry Festival and to the Puyallup Fair.”
The bison was “halter broke,” she said. “I could lead him around.”
By the time Wobble had a good set of horns, he was no longer well-behaved at the fair.
“He put his horns in the pen, and could carry the pen with him. When he was naughty, we called him steaks and burgers,” she said.
On Monday, Paul Brandal climbed a substantial metal fence and walked out into his field to where Wobble, a castrated male, was munching grass. Because of the animal’s early life, he was never reintroduced to the herd. “He would have been picked on,” Brandal said.
The bison is not exactly a pet. Seeing Wobble run and butt horns against the fence, it’s clear the powerful animal could be dangerous. Yet, like a good dog, he followed his master’s voice commands.
“He just knows me,” Paul Brandal said. “He follows me around like a puppy.”
Suburban development has encroached on farmland all over Snohomish County. In 2015, Mill Creek opened Buffalo Park, so named because there was once a herd at 132nd Street SE near 39th Avenue SE. Known as the Buffalo Farm, it was owned by Lloyd and Mary Wibbelman. In August, an old barn from the farm was destroyed in a fire.
The Sunnyside couple, who are renovating a house overlooking their farmland, may raise a few beef cattle, Paul Brandal said. Wobble will have a home for as long as they have the land.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.