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Buffalo tale: a ranch near the little town of Buffalo produces a different kind of burger.

How did Carl and Zona Van Meter get started in the buffalo busines?

"I always told Zona when I was looking out the kitchen window that someday I wanted to see a herd of buffalo out there like it was 500 years ago, and she would just roll her eyes," Carl says. Then one day he called her from the office and said, "'Honey, I put a deposit on four baby buffalo." She said, 'WHAAAAAT?'"

And 16 years later the number in the bison herd has grown. Depending on the time of year, the herd on the 95-acre ranch just outside the White County town of Buffalo ranges from 40 to 60. The number is highest now because the babies are born in late May and early June.

Anyone who's looking for a lucrative income supplement and who has several acres of land to spare might consider raising buffalo, too, Carl says, because the market seems to be big enough to support many producers and there aren't many now. Van Meter knows of only three people in Indiana who raise buffalo on the scale he does, and the National Buffalo Association lists only 23 members in Indiana.

The opportunity exists for the Van Meters to sell more than they do now--they get calls from potential customers all the time--but they say they really can't produce much more. "Right now we have 25 producing cows, which was the goal we set years ago. That's about all our 55 acres of pasture can support," Carl says.

But he's willing to help other producers. "I'm happy when I sell a mating pair (which usually runs $1,500) and can ofer buyers some of my 16 years of experience."

Thanks to the relative novelty of buffalo meat, the Van Meters can enjoy a measure of freedom with pricing. "When we first moved here, I was farming and we raised hogs and cattle, but we had no control over prices. This is the first work I've done in farming where I had total control of the price," explains Carl, who also works as a school administrator. "We charge #3.25 a pound for burger, which is what it takes to make a decent profit."

The bison meat is surprisingly healthful, he says. "I'm a big red-meat eater, but now I eat only buffalo meat. The only time we eat beef is when we go out." Although it's a red meat, buffalo fits in the same class as poultry and fish in terms of fat and cholesterol content. Says Zona: "It's great for heart patients and weight watchers.

"There's almost no fat, so it cooks quicker. That's why you have to be extremely careful not to overcook it," she adds. "If you overcook it, it tends to get tough. A lot of people who purchase the burger just try to fry it as is, and it's so low in fat it will stick in the skillet every time."

Besides the valuable meat, the buffalo provides hides, which can be made into leather boots, purses, belts and coats. Several native Americans place orders with the Van Meters and use various parts in ceremonies and jewelry. "A buffalo skull on a teepee is considered something sacred or prestigious," Zona says. In addition, big-game hunters enjoy making trophies out of the big bulls' heads. In fact, one taxidermist waited five years for one.

Very little goes to waste. The ranch even has provided "buffalo chips" for contests. "Yeah, I couldn't believe it when someone called and wanted them. I just told them to get here before it rains," Carl says, snickering.

In the Van Meters' herd, cows generally weigh 900 to 1,000 pounds, and the big bulls will weigh about twice that much. A bull's weight seesaws, because he loses a couple hundred pounds during breeding season. Then in the late summer they "beef up" to prepare for winter. Buffalo can hit 2,500 to 3,000 pounds, if they complete their 12-year growth stage, but the Van Meters don't let things go that far. "It's just too dangerous to have an animal of that size around. That's like an Olds 98!" Carl exlaims.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Indiana
Author:Jackson, Dorene
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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