Why is there a bison ranch in Sioux Falls?

Makenzie Huber
Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Travelers speeding along I-90 might glance at the blur of green separating itself from the I-229 exit and the industrial area of northern Sioux Falls. And many miss the herd of bison grazing on the patch of green if they blink.

But if they see the bison on the edge of the Nolz Poor Farm, they tend to stare.

Bikers on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will usually stop along the side of the road as they pass by, said Ed Nolz, owner of the bison ranch and Nolz Dragline and Construction. Other people will exit I-90 at Cliff Avenue and drive up to the ranch’s entrance along 60th Street North instead.

But it’s just about every day that the Nolz get an inquiry about the bison ranch sandwiched between I-229 and I-90.

‘That’s not a good idea’

“One time people hopped over the fence and tried to get to the bison from the interstate,” Ed said.

Most of the time, people will use the front door. They’ll stop along the road and watch calves in their pen and might stop in to buy some meat, he said.

“Don’t pet them though,” Ed said, gesturing to the adult bison, which can grow up to 2,000 pounds. “That’s not a good idea.”

Inside the family’s home on the property, a cooler sits inside the garage, holding bison jerky, steaks, ground meat and other goods processed from animals on the ranch. About 80 bison calves and mothers live and graze on the 49-acre plot of land. Calves are kept for about 30 months before they’re processed.

A tough industry

Even though interstate drivers and Sioux Falls natives alike are surprised to see the herd of bison along the interstate, the Nolz family have been raising bison on the plot of land since 1992.

Ed had two heart attacks, one in 1975 and another in 1987, before he decided to change his diet. Since bison was rare to come by in the early 90s, Ed took it upon himself to raise and sell his own bison meat.

“And it’s the only red meat he can eat,” his son, Dave, joked.

It’s a tough industry to get into, Ed said. While the bison don’t require much care and are self sufficient, it requires work to build the right facilities, and it takes about five years to see a return on investment. Ed and his wife, Deeana, started out with seven bison.

The Nolz family sells between 35 and 40 processed animals a year. The meat can be bought directly from the Nolz family, though they also sell to the Attic Bar and Grill, Northstar Grill and Pub, and other bars around the Sioux Falls area.

The Attic has worked with Nolz for the past 10 years, said owner operator Genna Terveer. She was looking for a local supplier for bison burgers and came across Nolz’s product at the Renner Corner.

“We’ve all driven by and seen the buffalo out there,” she said.

She’d seen the bison as she drove along I-90, but she always assumed it was a tourist trap. Now a decade later, she’ll see the Nolz family stop into her restaurant and eat a few bison burgers.

Still holding strong

Seeing their ranch holding strong as Sioux Falls grows around it is inspiring to Terveer. It shows the strong South Dakota agricultural roots still present in the metro area, she said.

The couple bought the land in 1985 as a construction shop for Nolz Dragline and Construction, which focuses on bridge work. At the time, they were well into the country. The road outside their house was gravel, and cornstalks grew where the Sanford Research Center now stands.

The ranch isn’t actually in Sioux Falls limits, even though it’s bordered by I-229 and I-90, and surrounded by Sioux Falls property on three sides. Their plot is a small divot in Sioux Falls’ northern border, and they plan to remain rural for the time being. If they sell their land, it’ll likely turn into commercial property, Ed said.

Until then, Ed and Deeana have turned bison ranching into a family business. Their son, Dave, owns a 100-acre ranch near Hartford, and their grandson, Kadyn, also takes part in the business.

“You don’t think of it as work. I go to work and build bridges,” Dave said. “I go home, and I get to play with the buffalo.”