Rush in the Region: Making America Graze Again

Rush in the Region: Making America Graze Again
By: Kole Rushmore Last Updated: November 14, 2019

The City of Hobart is home to many great attractions such as Deep River County Park, the Art Theater, and Festival Park, but many don’t know it’s also home to Broken Wagon Bison farm. Family-owned and operated by Wally, Bud, and Ruth Koeppen, the farm brings back America’s past, as one of Bud’s baseball caps conjures: Make America Graze Again.

It all started in 2003, when the two brothers, Wally and Bud Koeppen, inherited their 160-acre family farm. 

“My grandfather started this farm growing corn and soybeans in 1932,” Bud said. “We weren’t making enough with the little acreage we had. My brother and I thought, if we’re going to lose money, we might as well do something a little more interesting. So we started raising bison.”

The two brothers got to work building fences for their 10 pastures, a corral, and a handling facility for the ranch. Then, in the fall of 2003, the Koeppen’s purchased their first 10 bison - seven females, or cows, two heifer calves, and a male yearling, or bull, named “Big Bad John.” 

“When we were installing the fences, people driving down 650 West would slow down as they were driving to try and figure out what we were doing,” Bud said. “When we purchased our first herd, cars would stop on the side of the road to look at them. We caused a traffic jam on a country road - it was a sight to see!”

Fast forward to today - Broken Wagon Bison has become a tourist destination and is home to more than 120 bison. With summer tours running from June through September, guests can meet North America’s largest native land mammal (in the safety of the bison tour wagon, of course). 

The Koeppen family has a deep-rooted appreciation for the American bison, treating each one of their animals almost as a family member. They know the species so well that they’ve even been known to bottle feed babies, because first-time mothers sometimes will reject their first calves.

The ranch also features an expansive bison meat selection and a gift shop filled with hand-made leather belts, purses, pillows, jewelry, and clothing. 

“We want to see a million bison back on the continent. We think the way to get the bison to one million is to have more people eat more bison,” Bud said.

Bison meat is touted as highly nutritious, a fact many people might not realize. Along with being recommended by the American Heart Association, bison meat has been shown to reduce LDL (the bad) cholesterol by 45 percent over six months of eating four ounces of bison meat four to five times a week. 

“The more people know more about bison and the nutritional value, the higher demand there is and the more people will raise them, thus growing the population,” Bud said. 

More than a century ago, an estimated 70 million American bison roamed the United States plains. In the 1700s as settlers began to move west their migration, along with the invention of the .50-caliber rifle, lead to what is now known as “the Great Slaughter,” and the majority of the bison’s’ demise. The species was on the brink of extinction and diminished to less than a thousand. 

As the species became scarce, the extinction of bison seemed to be inevitable. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt and a few other men formed the American Bison Society to ensure the American bison’s survival. At that point in history, New York’s Bronx Zoo and Yellowstone National Park had also established bison preserves. Then, the federal government created the National Bison Range in Montana.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states there are more than 250,000 bison in the country. Bud said along with the preservation efforts, the driving force behind the bison’s population increase is thanks to ranches like Broken Wagon Bison.

“This animal means a lot to me,” Bud said. “I love what the animal stands for in this country.” 

To learn more about Broken Wagon Bison, visit their website or call (219)-759-3523.