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Atom-Smashing Lab Enjoys Sideline Enterprise - Selling Buffalo

March 18, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ Midwest buffalo buyers got a chance to place their bids at an unlikely auction site this week: Fermilab - the only U.S. atom-smashing facility with a herd of the proud beasts.

While scientists rammed high-energy atomic particles into each other underground in the world’s most powerful accelerator, farmers and ranchers from Illinois and five other states on Thursday placed bids from a flatbed truck for 64 animals being sold so Fermilab could thin its herd before spring calving.

″I knew it was going to be a good sale, and it was,″ said Dan Shepherd, president of the National Buffalo Association and owner of 320 of the animals at his farm in Clifton Hill, Mo.

Shepherd said he was thankful the animals commanded high prices at the auction - an average of $1,145 each and a total of $73,300 for all 64, according to Fermilab.

Rudy Dorner, land manager for federally owned Fermilab, or Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, said the facility has been in the buffalo business on a break-even basis for about 20 years.

″Dr. Robert Wilson, our first director, was born in Wyoming and loved the outdoors. And he felt bison, as representative (animals) of the prairie in Illinois, would be a good thing to have,″ Dorner said. ″And his idea has proven very, very popular.″

Hundreds of visitors come on warm-weather weekends to see Fermilab’s herd, normally comprising about 80 animals, at the lab’s 90-acre site 40 miles southwest of Chicago, he said.

Besides their popularity as symbols of Americana, bison are growing in value as food source for meat-eaters, Dorner said.

″It’s a very healthy meat, very low in cholesterol,″ he said. ″And it’s very good meat.″

Contrary to popular belief, the bison is no longer an endangered species. About 120,000 of them live in the United States, up from around 1,000 at the turn of the century, Shepherd said.

″It’s an alternative agriculture. The buffalo business has been pretty good to us over the years. It’s been a solid moneymaker,″ Shepherd said.

Dorner said Fermilab, with more land than most other particle accelerator facilities, is the only one in the country with a herd of buffalo.

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