Bison are gracing Iowa’s landscape once again

Bare Bison, a bison farm, plans for 300-head herd by year’s end

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Johnnie Kennell feeds Billy an apple. Billy is a 1,900-pound 4-year-old Plains bison bull, which is anticipated to grow up to 2,700 pounds at full size.

VAN METER — Bison are known as the largest hooved mammal in North America.

These large animals once used to be a very prominent part of the continent and even throughout Iowa.

According to the Polk County Conservation website, the largest concentrations of bison were in northwestern and north central parts of the state. In the late 1890s, the numbers of bison across the continent dropped as low as 1,000 due to overhunting. The last wild bison seen in Polk County was in 1850 and they completely disappeared from Iowa in 1870.

Helping bison make a comeback in Iowa are four men that are working together to develop a bison farm and business, Bare Bison.

Although the bison will not be in the wild, but raised for meat and also with the purpose of increasing bison numbers through breeding, Johnnie Kennell, Scott Sullivan, Nick Fiala, Josh Haufbauer and Dean Quirk started this venture earlier this year with their 350 acre bison farm near Van Meter.

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
This is one of the bulls on the Bare Bison farm near Van Meter. The farm consists of more than 20 bulls and 180 cows and calves with the plans to increase herd size to 300 by year’s end.

Kennell said they started up their bison farm last March with bison coming from several locations including Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas, southern Iowa and even upstate New York.

Kennell said bison are a strict herd species, and also a very intelligent species.

Currently, they have more than 20 bulls and 180 cows and calves on their farm with plans to increase their herd size to more than 300 by the end of the year.

The majority of their bison herd is made up of Plains bison. Unique to their herd, Kennell said is a group of Plains bison that happen to be a true 100 percent DNA herd. He said they plan to keep that particular herd for breeding purposes in order to help build up that population.

The pride of that herd and the farm, Kennell said is Billy, a 1,900-pound four year old Plains bison bull, which they anticipate will grow to 2,700 pounds when he reaches full size.

In addition to the herd of Plains bison, Kennell said they also raise woods bison.

“The woods bison orginate from Canada and were endangered and recently classified as threatened,” he said.

As part of their breeding stock for the woods bison, Kennell said they have two bulls that each weigh about 2,200 pounds and are expected to reach about 3,000 pounds within the next couple of years.

Why bison?

Kennell said the group had heard of restaurants featuring bison on their menu for their high protein values and also learned of the growing demand for bison meat and decided to take a chance on a niche market and offer quality bison meat.

Currently, a store and gathering area for Bare Bison is being built. Kennell anticipates they will open in the next few weeks, offering bison meat with the plans to launch a website for people to purchase bison meat online mid-Februrary.

In addition to having a store, Kennell said they are also hoping to add more of an agri-tourism experience on the farm.

“Our plan is to have tours on our 350 acre farm and sell bison meat out of our shop on the property,” he said.

Kennell said Bare Bison is proud of the fact it’smeat is 100 percent grass fed and finished.

Bison meat, he said, offers a healthier alternative to other meat options that are out there.

According to the National Bison Association, bison is nature’s perfect protein. Bison deliver all of the essential amino acids our bodies need as well as a high ratio of healthy fatty acids like omega-3.

In addition, bison is a highly nutrient dense food because of the proportion of protein, fat, mineral and fatty acids to its caloric value.

According to the USDA, bison offers significantly less fat and calories, less cholesterol, and bison contains higher amounts of protein, iron and vitamin B-12 than beef, pork, chicken and salmon.

Part of the reason for bison’s high nutritional value is because of how they are raised. Bison are handled as little as possible. Bison are not domesticated, they spend their lives on grass, with very little or no time in the feedlot.

“They are way easier to care for. You just let them be,” said Kennell. “They use less vaccinations than other livestock. They want to be with their herd, so there are not many issues with them wanting to get out. They are a wild animal. They have those wild instincts and are pretty self-sufficient animals.”


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