Brewster family builds bison business

By Kyle Kuphal

There is a place north of Brewster where the bison still roam. That place is called Brewster Bison and it’s owned by Russell and Ann Obermoller, their son, Kurt, and his wife, Brooke.

The family has two breeding herds — one at Russell and Ann’s farm a few miles north of Brewster and the other at the farm owned by their son, Kurt, and his wife, Brooke, about seven miles northwest of there. They also have a finishing facility at Kurt and Brooke’s farm.

The family ventured into raising bison in 2018.

“First of all, the animal has just always been of interest to us,” Russell said. “It’s just a beautiful animal.”

In addition to that, he said Kurt wanted to work on the family farm after high school and the family decided that raising bison was a way to make that happen. Russell said the family was fortunate to have a friend in the business who mentored them and helped them get started. He said those in the industry, in general, have been outgoing, open with information and eager to help, and that the Minnesota Bison Association and National Bison Association, of which they are members, also provide helpful information for those in the business.

Once they got into the business, the Obermollers said their herd grew more quickly than they expected.

“When we first started we estimated that in five years we’d have a herd of about 50 and we got in way deeper than that,” Russell said.

He said they bought their first 11 bison at a high point in the market and then some breeding animals came up for sale that were much less expensive than the first group, so they bought those. They continued to grow their herd from there and now have around 150 bison.

“After we were into it just a short while we could see that we really enjoyed being around the animals and working with them,” Russell said.

The Obermollers said bison are intelligent and agile animals. Russell said he’d seen a bison run full speed, stop and turn around “on a dime” and a nearly 2,000-pound breeding bull jump three feet straight up into the air when spooked. He said they also had a cow that once jumped over a 5-foot, 5-inch fence.

“I didn’t see it , but all of a sudden she was in the other pen and that’s the only way she could have gotten there,” he said.

The bison eat grass, hay and grains. Russell described them as very self controlling when it comes to their food.

“They aren’t like a beef animal that will just over eat on the grain,” he said. “They’ll moderate themselves. At different times of year they’ll eat different minerals more so when their body needs it.”

Russell said bison take about 30 months to be ready for market. The Obermollers butcher around four or five animals every month and sell the meat directly to local restaurants, butcher shops and farmers markets. Ann said people can also contact her online via brewsterbison.com and arrange to buy products directly.

They sell the meat by the quarter and half as well as steaks, summer sausage, brats, ground, patties, roasts, jerky, sticks, briskets and any form that beef can be purchased in. Russell said bison is comparable to beef in taste, but a little richer. The Obermollers said it’s also healthier. According to a nutritional comparison from the National Bison Association, bison has less fat, calories and cholesterol, a comparable amount of protein, and more iron and vitamin B-12 than beef.

“We like to call it the heart healthy meat,” Ann said.

In addition to raising bison, the family grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Russell said they started crop farming in 1986. Their farm was established by his grandfather almost 100 years ago.

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