Three Suns Ranch: Where the Bison Roam
On a 5,700-acre property off State Road 31 in Punta Gorda sits Florida’s only large-scale producer of bison: Three Suns Ranch.
Here, Army veteran Keith Mann handles the administrative operations that come with raising more than 2,000 grass-fed, hormone-free bison and processing clean, local meat. With the support of private investors, eight employees and his loving family, Mann is raising the bar for sustainable ranching in the Sunshine State.
“My family and I really wanted to do something like this. There were good cowboys on the ranch already when we found it [it had been a beef cattle ranch for decades] and I knew where I wanted to go with it,” says Mann, whose family includes his wife, Caitlin, and their three sons: Cavan, 7; Pierson, 5; and Gadsden, 2. “I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to have a more family-oriented career and life.”
In the summer of 2012—after relocating from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Sarasota the year prior—Mann saw his family’s dream begin to materialize. Serendipitously, thousands of bison were becoming available due to a drought in the Midwest, and ranchers were looking to sell just as Mann was ready to buy.
“We started shopping for bison. The next thing we knew, we got more than a couple thousand animals in six months,” Mann says. “But there has been a lot of effort and sleepless nights since then. The biggest challenge is trying to get a bison adapted to Southwest Florida. I was less successful than I wanted to be for the first year, but it takes time.”
Even with the initial obstacles, Mann knew the financial potential for raising and processing bison, especially in a southern state. Mann’s wife, an amateur Paleo cook, had been preparing the flavorful meat for years because it has more protein and nutrients but fewer fat and calories than standard beef.
The demand for bison exists. The next step is to create the supply.
“We are harvesting and processing about two animals a week, probably pulling out 500 to 700 pounds a week,” Mann says. “If the herd goes as planned, I’ll have three dozen animals for processing and sales a week. I have to turn down restaurants and individuals right now. I need almost three years to get a bison ready for harvest, so it’s a matter of time.”
Now, two pounds of ground bison costs $20 and sirloin steaks are $14 per pound, and they can be purchased directly at the ranch. Mann’s biggest restaurant customers are Gecko’s Grill and Pub, and S’macks Burgers and Shakes, and Three Suns’ bison is on the menu at these Sarasota-Manatee locales.
Onsite at the ranch is a USDA-inspected slaughter and meat processing facility, which is under the umbrella of Three Suns’ sister company, Real Meats. This allows animals to be raised, managed, processed, and sold right at the same property, which Mann describes as “the ultimate in accountable food production."
“The meat business is a critical part of what we’re trying to do. Real Meats is all about processing and packaging local animals for local ranchers. I can do beef, goats, etc., and farmers can bring them right to me,” Mann says. “Right now, the only option these ranchers have is to take the meat to a market and pay the market price. There’s more money in it for the rancher by coming to my ranch. There’s also more incentive to keep the meat local.”
Because Mann’s bison are allowed to roam in the grass without drugs or chemicals, patrons can rest assured that Three Suns’ products are always safe, he says. “My longtime goal is to start a revolution in Southwest Florida,”
Mann says about his ranching and processing strategy. “There’s room for disruption in the current system. I think it could be much better.”
Mann intends to elevate the standards, which is no easy feat, but he will at least be working toward that goal while living a life he craved for so long. He resides in Sarasota with his family and no longer has to worry about deployment.
“When I was in the Army, I spent so much time away from my sons and my wife,” Mann says. “Now I work long hours but it’s much easier being on the same continent, and being my own boss is much better than taking orders. My boys like to come to the ranch and go camping and fishing. My whole universe revolves around my family and I’m happy to be with them.”
Three Suns Ranch: 2351 State Rd 31, Punta Gorda; 941-639-7070; threesunsranch.com