- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

BUFFALO, Ind. (AP) - Carl Van Meter used to look out of his farmhouse and tell himself he’d like to see a herd of bison out on the pasture one day.

“I just thought, living by Buffalo, Indiana, there really ought to be some buffalo around here somewhere,” he said with a laugh. “So we started with four calves and it’s kind of got out of hand.”

Now a herd of about 80 roams the grasslands of Buffalo Ranch, owned and operated by the Van Meter family. More than 40 years after setting out on the endeavor with its steep learning curve, the business continues supplying meat for customers and agritourism for visitors.

Carl Van Meter and his wife, Zona Van Meter, both grew up on farms. Zona Van Meter said they both swore they’d never end up on one.

“I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him yet,” Zona Van Meter said, teasingly blaming her husband for the decades they’ve spent on their White County homestead.



They raised beef cattle and hogs, but always for “a pittance,” Zona Van Meter continued.

Then in 1974 Carl Van Meter acted on the desire he always had whenever he looked out on their fields.

“That’s when this brave man called me at work one day… and said, ‘Guess what honey? I put a deposit on two buffalo calves,’” Zona Van Meter said. “I thought, ‘What?!’”

They ended up getting a total of four American bison, commonly known as American buffalo, from a vendor in Missouri. What followed were years of learning experiences they’ve crafted into a livelihood.

“I’ve made every mistake in the book,” Carl Van Meter said.

They got their first lesson shortly after purchasing those first four calves.

“This brave soul decides it’s time to try and lead one,” Zona Van Meter said, nodding to her husband.

Thinking they possessed a tameness similar to that of cattle, Carl Van Meter outfitted one of the calves with a halter.

“That little buffalo calf dragged him all over,” Zona Van Meter said - much to the amusement of their children. “It was determined right then and there that they’d die before they’d ever be domesticated.”

The ranch started out with wooden gates until Carl Van Meter said he watched a bison casually saunter through one, splitting the gate in half. They began topping off their barriers with barbed wire after watching their first bull bison - Roosevelt - clear a fence.

They went on to recall a getaway after Carl Van Meter left a gate open when their herd was about 16 strong.

“The entire herd went galloping off that way,” Zona Van Meter said, pointing to their hay field across the county road. “We saw them disappear over that hill.”

The couple quickly executed a plan.

“They’re not grain fed but they know what grain is,” Zona Van Meter said. “It’s a treat. That’s how we get them in, because you can’t drive them. You have to coax them in, so it’s like candy.”

Carl Van Meter poured grain into the troughs within the fenced-in pasture before loudly hitting two grain buckets together.

“I pounded and I pounded and I pounded because they were totally out of sight,” he said. “…And finally here they came, and they were on the run, and they can really run fast. And then I’m pounding and I have the gate open and I thought, ‘Oh, please God, don’t let cars come flying down.’”

The road remained free of vehicles while all the bison crossed and returned behind the fence to enjoy their treat.

“They were perfectly content,” Zona Van Meter said. “They had their little adventure.”

Carl Van Meter said a diet of mostly grass leaves bison meat with less fat than beef. The family spent decades supplying individual clients and area restaurants with bison meat before adding agritourism to their business plan about eight years ago.

Buffalo Ranch can take up to 40 people at a time on tours of the herd in two canopied wagons. From their hay bale seats, attendees can get an up-close view of the beasts and their shaggy brown coats, flapping tails, deep grunts and huffing exhales.

A sound system allows Carl Van Natter to narrate the 45-minute ride with facts about bison and tales of his family’s experiences with them.

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Source: (Logansport) Pharos-Tribune, https://bit.ly/1UnITqz

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Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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