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Bison ranchers part of growing number across the U.S.

by the numbers

40 million to 60 million

Estimated size of North American herd prior to 1600

Less than 1,000

Estimated number of bison prior to 1900, before efforts were made to preserve and restore the species

198,234

Number of bison in the United States residing on private ranches and farms, according to the 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture census

Source: National Bison Association,
www.bisoncentral.com

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For more on Broken Wagon Bison, go to www.brokenwagonbison.com, or call (219) 759-3523.

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Updated: June 18, 2013 8:10AM



UNION TOWNSHIP — Bud and Ruth Koeppen and Bud’s brother, Wally, sort of fell into raising bison.

Bud and Ruth kept in contact with their wedding photographer over the years, who ended up settling in a log cabin in Rockville and raising bison.

The Koeppens were intrigued and caught up with their acquaintance. They joined the National Bison Association — Wally jokes they’re in the NBA and they are, just not the one for basketball teams — put up a fence on the farm that’s been in their family for three generations, and started going to conferences.

“Everything progressed from there,” Bud said of the start of Broken Wagon Bison in 2003.

As of Monday, with the spring birthing season in full swing, the Koeppens had 104 bison in their herd, the largest it’s been since they got started, and Bud expects at least a couple more calves in the coming weeks.

Bud is quick to point out that this year is also the 100th anniversary of the Buffalo Nickel though technically, that’s a misnomer. “There are no American buffalo. They’re all bison,” he said.

The Koeppens, who own 160 acres in Union Township between Valparaiso and Hobart, raise the bison to sell the meat. They typically sell the heifers when they reach 18 months of age. Because they already have bulls for breeding, the rest are sold for slaughter at 30 months.

They sell individual cuts of meat at a store at the farm, which also includes leather goods made from buffalo hide, some done by Ruth, and other crafts. They also sell their meat to Don Quijote and Suzie’s Café in Valparaiso, and Tate’s Place in Portage.

Some of the bison, though not all, have names, like Big John, the farm’s No. 1 breed bull, who weighs in at around 2,400 pounds and likes to scratch his back on an old upright street sweeper brush to shake loose his winter coat.

While bison might have roamed much of the land centuries ago, they do seem oddly out of place in modern-day rural Porter County.

“A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” Wally said, though the farm is open to the public and offers tours.

The Koeppens, Bud said, have one of 75 or 80 bison farms in Indiana. There are now bison farms in every state in the country, he said, and the number continues to grow.

“The boom is here because people have finally caught on that it’s such a healthy product,” Bud said, adding it’s leaner than chicken breast and is high in iron. Bison are also raised without antibiotics or steroids on open land. “Nationally, they’re not able to keep up with demand.”

According to the National Bison Association’s website, www.bisoncentral.com, herds that numbered more than 30 million when the first European explorers came to America were nearly wiped out by the 1880s. At the turn of the 20th century, fewer than 1,000 bison remained.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture now estimates the herd on public and private lands is an estimated 220,000 bison.

For the Koeppens, the bison are more than just a farm animal raised for slaughter.

“I don’t look at myself as raising a bison,” Bud said. “I look at myself as raising a bison nation, as preserving a species.”



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