Straight Arrow Bison

Straight Arrow Bison, A Pasture for People to Pass Through

Sandra Yerges

The only straight arrow coming out of a broken bow is that of Straight Arrow Bison, a bison farm located in Broken Bow, Nebraska. This decades-old business is run by Karen and Marty Bredthauer, with Marty handling the hands-on farming tasks and Karen working on the bookkeeping and communication side of the business. Their herd of bison, sustained by the lush grass of their 320-acre pasture as well as the apple cider vinegar mixed in their water supply, have provided various consumable products over the years.

Karen and Marty are no rookies to the farming industry as they both grew up participating in 4H and farm life respectively. It has been an evolutionary journey for the pair over the past 48 years surrounding themselves with agriculture. From working on the farm of Marty’s father to establishing their own farm consisting of cattle, pigs, and corn around 1980, the pair has been well-acquainted to a variety of avenues in this field. Around the same time they established their conventional farm, however, they were faced with financial burdens that changed the trajectory of their business for good.

Realizing their current operation was not maximizing the profits they needed to stay afloat, the Bredthauers decided to look to a new form of agriculture: bison. Their interest in these animals mixed with their expected profitability and more hands-off approach led them to settle on this new venture. It was then Straight Arrow Bison was formed, leaving them with a blank slate for the future of their business.

Sustainability is one the areas the Bredthauers have focused on for their farm since 2014 when they were intrigued by its impact. They strived to avoid chemical use in their pastures and had no direct influence on pasture production. Two years later, they took this idea one step further by applying for a grant which offered them the funds to begin testing additives for their pasture. With the additions they tried, including sea minerals and biological products, they realized it was positively impacting the weight of their animal carcasses. For a business that sells bison meat, this discovery was huge.

From there, the business began to move toward regenerative practices to maintain sustainability in other areas of the farm. With the native grass found on the Straight Arrow Farm property, the Bredthauers have chosen to utilize Mycorrhizal Plus, an additive which feeds the microbial life in the soil, to naturally enhance the health of their grass. Furthermore, they maximize the use of their land by using more concentrated rotational grazing practices with the help of their growing number of paddocks.

When the rotational grazing is done in October for the start of the encroaching winter season, it is time for the farm to participate in its yearly harvesting. Everything from slaughtering to dressing the bison is completed on-site. With the help of an off-site worker, the meat is prepared for processing with the dressing equipment located in the farm’s state approved facility. With a short trip to an off-site location for cutting and packaging, the ready-to-sell meat is then returned to the farm’s walk-in freezer.

As with most meat-based businesses, there is a wide range of meat products available for Straight Arrow Bison customers. Whether it is processed sausages and brats or cuts of steak and burger meat, the bison from this farm provide a plethora of options to appeal to many preferences.

To ensure no part of the animal is going to waste, this business also developed several non-traditional items: bone broth, tallow, marrow mush, raw buddy treats, and homemade soap. The buddy treats are freeze-dried raw organ meats along with other pieces less desirable for humans. After cooking the existing bones for three days, bone broth is extracted along with a mixture of tallow, marrow, and cartilage, which they named “marrow mush.” Not knowing who the target customer of the marrow mush would be, they decided on the slogan, “Safe for humans, but more appealing to animals.” The broth and marrow mush are freeze-dried to make them easier to ship. Some of the tallow is made into soap as well. 

Because of the rapport this business has had with its customers over the years, this easily recognizable company makes most of its profits traveling to three market areas up to 80 miles away from their farm. Their log cabin mobile store makes monthly visits to each location year-round, joining with farmers’ markets in the warmer months to market their goods. Although this is a large focus for the sales portion of the farm, the company also offers their products online and to a select group of wholesale locations focused on nutritional offerings.

The purchasing of Straight Arrow Bison products is not the only way customers can support the Bredthauers. Knowing their pastures provide a look into the breathtaking views Nebraska has to offer, the Bredthauers decided to open their farm up to travelers and view enthusiasts alike. With one apartment available to rent through Airbnb, the business is catching the attention of customers, especially those on road trips making their way through the area. Tours are also offered by request for groups of all sizes. 

Because this farm had experience with grants and knew the benefit of them, it was a no-brainer for the Bredthauers to look into the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG). After speaking with a USDA worker from Nebraska and carefully timing out the application process, they began operating with the $17,480 grant in 2020.

Being that the majority of the marketing efforts for the business were based on in-person encounters at farmer’s markets, the VAPG allowed Straight Arrow Bison to expand these efforts online as well as update their product packaging. To communicate their farm’s message to online customers, the business used some of the funds to create a video for users browsing their website. In addition, they participated in VAPG-funded nutritional testing to understand and communicate the benefits of consuming their products. This major marketing point along with the help of a new part-time employee were imperative VAPG outcomes for professionalizing the brand and pushing the business forward.

While looking at their current operation, the Bredthauers are proud of their low bison illness rate paired with their calf survival rate. The nutritional testing results they discovered through the help of the VAPG is also providing a new level of understanding of the business for the future. By hoping to increase their wholesale customers while adding two on-site rental yurts to their property in the next few years, this farm has future plans and business aspirations that are as straight as an arrow.