Buffalo still roam in Union Township

2012-03-04T12:34:00Z Buffalo still roam in Union TownshipBy Jeff Burton jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 548-4354 nwitimes.com

UNION TOWNSHIP | Despite its arterial highways and large housing developments like Shorewood Forest and Salt Creek Commons, it's still not that unusual to see rare birds in the skies and deer roaming through backyards in Union Township.

Seeing a buffalo along the side of the road, though, can be quite jarring at first.

"The first time we put them in the field, it created a traffic jam on this county road," Bud Koeppen said.

Koeppen and his family own the Broken Wagon Bison Farm on County Road 450 North, just south of Wheeler, a village settled in the 1850s as a stop along the former Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway.

The Koeppen family has been farming its acreage since 1932. The working farm is now being managed by the third generation, which started raising bison in 2003.

"We were always just grain farmers," Koeppen said.

That changed after he and his wife got a Christmas card from a longtime friend saying he was retiring to raise bison. That piqued Koeppen's interest.

"I didn't know of anybody around here who was raising them," he said.

The couple visited their friend's ranch, and Koeppen later talked to his brother and father, who had toyed with the idea years ago.

Now, there are some 75 head of bison on the family farm.

During the winter, the bison graze on some 60 acres of corn and bean stubble and are fed fresh water and hay. In mid-May, they rotate on seven different 5-acre pastures on the farm.

In the summer, Koeppen and his family often lead tours of the farm, which, along with the Chustak and Salt Creek fishing areas and the Taltree Arboretum & Gardens, is part of the Porter County tourism department's Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail in Union Township.

Koeppen said children are always awestruck at the size of the animals, which once they reach about 10 years old, weigh between a ton and 2,500 pounds.

"We keep (visitors) pretty far back. They don't like getting too close to you," he said. "There's a couple that'll take a treat from some of us because they know us."

In addition to the tours, the farm also sells bison meat and a variety of products made from the large buffalo hides.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.