If you’ve been to any place where there are bison, you’ve heard the admonitions: stay away from the bison, and whatever you do, don’t try to feed the bison.
The National Park Service warns you to stay away from the “fluffy cows.”
There’s a good reason for the warnings. Bison are giant. They are massive animals who are not only big, they’re also fast.
This makes them dangerous. There’s a reason every park with free-roaming bison posts warning signs.
Get too close, and you could regret it.
This is not the case at Cook’s Bison Ranch. Located in Wolcottville, this is one of the best things to do in Shipshewana, Indiana. At this family farm, you’re invited to get up close and personal with the massive beasts.
They’ll even let you feed them.
Hate ads? Want to read this without interruption? Become an official Local Tourist – only $5/month on Substack! Click here to sign up.
The foundations of Cook’s Bison Ranch date back to 1939. That’s when Peter Cook’s grandfather Everett bought 83 acres, a house, and a barn for $5,000.
The newlywed’s father-in-law thought it was an awful decision, but Everett did it anyway. He proved him wrong, paying back the loan with “two good years of popcorn.”
Everett created a successful business that he passed down to his son, Wayne.
The farm focused on cattle, crops, and chicken, but after several family trips to Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, Everett’s grandson Peter had fallen in love with the wooly mammal.
Peter joined the National Bison Association. He researched. And, eventually, he convinced Wayne that raising bison would be a good idea.
In 1998, the Cooks got their first 30 head and the family farm became a bison ranch.
Bison need room to roam, and the Cooks have the land. There’s lots of grass for them to feed on, and there’s no danger of them going hungry.
Understanding that others, like Peter, are also fascinated by the USA’s National Mammal, they also offer tours, and if you like, you can feed them.
Erica Cook, co-owner of the ranch and Peter’s wife, took me out with the bison on a blue-sky day.
She fired up the antique tractor and I rode behind her in a covered wagon. The bison had been milling about in an enclosure, but as soon as she opened the gate and drove through, the herd joined us.
Some ran ahead, racing towards the open field. Others trailed behind. And some trotted along beside us.
There were bulls and cows and calves. Riding in the wagon alone was a thrill; the closest I’d ever been to bison before was while camping at Badlands National Park.
I’d awakened early and stood on one side of my vehicle, parked on the gravel road that circled Sage Creek Campground, while they grazed on the other side of the road.
Riding in the Cook’s wagon, the bison were close enough to touch.
Erica had given me a bag of pellets so I could feed them. At first I was nervous. The warnings against getting too close to these creatures were indelibly etched in my brain.
Erica stayed on the tractor, standing on the seat to talk with me. She told me she never gets down and walks among them.
Even though their herd seemed docile, these are still wild, unpredictable animals with an innate sense of curiosity. I imagine they’d give “don’t know my own strength” a whole new meaning.
I grabbed a few pellets and dropped them, aiming for their tongues. I missed, every time, and they dropped into the tall grasses. Erica told me not to worry. They don’t have great eyesight, but they do have a great sense of smell and they’d be able to find them.
Finally, I extended my arm further out and the beautiful beast wrapped the longest tongue I’ve ever seen around my hand.
Did you know bison tongues are scratchy?
Eventually, I even pet one with one hand while feeding it with the other. I felt giddy, a child-like thrill.
It wasn’t only because it seemed like I was breaking the rules–don’t touch the bison, and don’t ever feed them rang in my head–it was also because they truly are magnificent. I could understand how Peter could fall so in love with them they’d change the course of his and Erica’s lives.
Visiting Cook’s Bison Ranch
You can experience that thrill yourself and take a tour. Check their website or call ahead. While they do offer some open tours that don’t require reservations, Cook’s Bison Ranch is a working ranch, so those are limited and only available seasonally.
This agritourism destination offers multiple types of private group tours, including a Ranch Tour, a BBQ Chuckwagon Tour, a BBQ Chuckwagon Dinner Tour, and a Bison Burger Meal Tour.
Before you go, spend some time in the gift shop. You can pick up some bison meat, some bison jerky, and plenty of souvenirs.
Cook’s Bison Ranch is located in Wolcottville, in the southeast corner or LaGrange County. 5645 E 600 S, Wolcottville, IN 46795; 260-854-3297, website
Looking for another unique experience? Have dinner in an Amish home.
FAQs about Bison
What species of bison are found at Cook’s Bison Ranch?
Cook’s Bison Ranch is home to American Bison, also known as Bison bison bison, and commonly called American buffalo.
How big is a fully-grown bison?
Adult male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand about 6 feet tall.
Are bison dangerous?
While generally peaceful, bison are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Maintaining a safe distance is crucial. (Hence the tall metal wagon.)
What do bison eat?
Bison primarily consume grasses, shrubs, and leafy plants.
How fast can a bison run?
Bison can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
Where do bison naturally occur in the United States?
Historically, bison roamed across much of North America. Today, they are primarily found in national parks, reserves, and some private ranches, such as Cook’s Bison Ranch.
What kind of habitat do bison prefer?
Bison are most commonly found in plains, prairies, and river valleys.
Do bison live in herds?
Yes, bison are social animals that generally live in herds, often divided into smaller groups based on age and gender.
How do bison communicate?
Bison communicate through a variety of vocalizations, body movements, and scents. The deep, rumbling “grunt” is a common vocalization.
What is the gestation period for bison?
The gestation period for bison is approximately 285 days, leading to the birth of a single calf.
How long do bison live?
The average lifespan of a bison in the wild is around 15-20 years, although they can live longer in captivity.
Are bison endangered?
Although no longer an endangered species, the American Bison isn’t in the clear and is still considered threatened.
Show Me Shipshewana
Are you ready to plan a visit to Shipshewana? Then you’ll need Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country.
Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country invites you to step away from the frenzied pace of day-to-day life. You’re invited to relax. To eat (a lot). To enjoy connecting with your loved ones, with nature, and with yourself.
Show Me Shipshewana is more than a travel book; it’s a companion that invites you to experience the third largest Amish community in the world and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Available September 15, 2023. Reserve your copy today and you’ll be planning your Shipshewana getaway!