The bison has been named the national mammal of the United States. It’s fitting, since it is estimated that 30 to 60 million bison lived in North America in the 1500s before huge slaughters took place as settlers moved westward. The bison was near extinction, down to about 300 head nationally before a handful of ranchers captured orphaned calves and began raising them. Today the population has grown, with bison found in national and state parks, as well as several private herds being raised for food. I toured the Broken Wagon Bison Ranch in Hobart, Indiana, where I learned more about bison and had a chance to meet the herd up close and personal.
A lesson on bison
Before heading out to the pasture, Bud Koeppen, co-owner of Broken Wagon Bison Ranch, gave a presentation, which included a film on the bison industry and then a bit of a history lesson and some fun and interesting facts about bison. Here are a few things we learned:
- Though many people refer to bison as buffalo, they are two different species. Early settlers called the animals “buffalo” because of their similarities, and the name stuck.
- Bison are the largest native land mammals in North America. The average bull, at maturity, weighs about 2,000 pounds. Cows are generally around 1,400 pounds.
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- When born, a calf is about half the weight of a beef calf, at around 35 to 50 pounds. They are born a cinnamon color, which they keep for three to four months. They slowly shed that coat and turn brown. If they’re born out of season, in the winter, they’ll keep the orange coat all the way through the winter.
- The herd can run 35 miles per hour. A few can run as fast as 50 miles per hour.
- There is an alpha male and an alpha female in every herd.
Bud pointed out items that Native Americans made from bison, everything from shelter and clothing from the hide to weapons and utensils from bones. In the end, during the mass slaughter by hunters, only the hide and the tongue were used. The tongue was considered a delicacy. The rest of the animal was left to rot.
Riding out to the Broken Wagon Bison Ranch pasture
Following the orientation, we climbed into a wagon for the ride to the pasture. The bison knew they were in for a treat, so before we knew it, the wagon was surrounded by the herd for a close-up view. We were warmed to keep our arms and hands in the wagon and watch as Bud, and his brother Wally, fed them treats. I was surprised by the color of the tongue.
More about Broken Wagon Bison Ranch
- Broken Wagon Bison Ranch was started in 2003 by Wally, Bud and Ruth Koeppen on the family’s 160-acre farm. As of last summer, the herd numbered 101.
- Tours ($10) are offered at the ranch, located at 563 West 450 North in Hobart, Indiana, on Saturdays from June 1 through September 30 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Bison meat, touted as being a healthier alternative to beef, is available in the Broken Wagon Bison store, as are bison leather goods and buffalo themed gift ware.
- For more information, visit the Broken Wagon Bison web site.
Accommodations: I stayed at the Comfort Inn Hammond during my visit to Northwest Indiana. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor
Disclosures: My visit to Broken Wagon Bison Ranch was hosted by the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority. My admission was complimentary; however, all opinions in this article are my own.
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