If you’ve ever driven around the back roads in northeast Indiana, chances are you’ve seen farms with cows and chickens and other normal farm animals.
But up in Wolcottville, you may see another kind of animal roaming the countryside.
Cook's Bison Ranch, located at 5645 E. C.R. 600S in Wolcottville, dates all the way back to 1939 when the farm was purchased by Everett Cook, grandfather to today’s owner, Peter Cook.
Peter grew up in Wolcottville, but after multiple trips out to Yellowstone National Park, he became fascinated with the animal.
In 1998, they got their first bison and from there, they kept adding to their collection.
Trisha was engaged to her husband Peter when he had the idea to start raising bison.
“We already had the land, which is the biggest thing you need,” Trisha said.
Land requirements differ from state to state but in Indiana, Trisha said farmers are allowed to have one bison and one calf per acre.
Trisha said even though their farm can support more animals than they have, they don’t want to be at full capacity so their field isn’t overgrazed.
In addition to raising the bison for their meat, the farm also gives tours.
If you want to feel like you're on the Oregon Trail making the trip out west, take a covered wagon tour out to see and feed the herd.
“Contrary to what people believe, they’re pretty laid back animals,” Trisha said.
On the tour, you’ll go right in the middle of the herd. Being surrounded by bison can be intimidating at first but once you’re out in the herd, you can see what gentle giants bison are.
Although the farm offers tours, they’re still an operating farm.
Peter said bison meat has a similar taste to beef.
If you've never eaten bison before, Peter said to have somebody who knows how to cook it make it for you.
"It doesn't have a gamy taste like venison," Peter said, "It's a lean meat and if you overcook it, it can be tough."
Like other places in the Midwest, the weather in Indiana can be sporadic and unforgiving. With summer temperatures reaching 100 degrees and well below freezing in the winter, the bison aren’t phased.
Some farm animals, like cows, require artificial shelter but bison do not.
“These animals are amazing,” Trisha said, “They’re built to adapt to pretty much any weather condition.”
The Cooks also own a couple thousand acre farm out in North Dakota.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere,” Trisha said, “I think the closest Walmart is an hour away.”
Originally, the farm in North Dakota was supplying bison to their Wolcottville farm, but over the years, that’s changed.
Now, Peter said the two farms work interchangeably. If one farm needs more breeding bison, they will transport one from one farm to another.
“They’re really easy to transport,” Peter said.
In the beginning of the tour by visitors, Peter said the bison are excited but throughout the ride they settle down.
The farm has not been affected as some businesses have during the pandemic. Other than a few tours being cancelled, Cook’s mainly relies on farming.
The main issue the farm is having through the pandemic is that it’s been taking a lot longer to get animals in for processing.
"The earliest our butchers could take a bison is November," Trisha said.
Although they can't get in to be processed for a few months, the farm has other sources of income.
In addition to selling bison meat, they sell other parts of the animal and hay to businesses and taxidermists.