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Daughter carries on bison business
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
GREENWOOD, Del. (March 29, 2016) — Years after Robert Collins died, bison still roam the pasture at his family’s Colvine Farm, part of the legacy he passed down to his daughter Bobbi Lester and family.
Collins had brought bison to Colvine Farm in 1984 after an impromptu visit to a Midwest bison ranch.
An Army and Air Force veteran, Collins didn’t grow up on a farm and owned some Tastee Freez stores in the Delaware area and was at a corporate convention in Kansas City and met bison rancher Bill Knoth.
“They met in the lobby and just started chit-chatting,” Bobbi said.
Collins ended up extending his trip to visit the rancher’s bison farm and returned home intent on bringing them to his farm.
His initial motivation was to help bring back the animal from near extinction and have them back on the East Coast, where they once naturally lived.
“So my dad came home and said, ‘we’re going to build bigger fences and a bigger handling system,” Bobbi said.
He started his herd with three calves and a bull and grew into a 65-head herd at its peak.
Now the herd ranges between 40 and 50 head.
“He originally planned to breed the bison to preserve the population because of its decline 30 years ago, Bobbi said. “The farm later expanded to provide on-farm meat sales when people became more health conscious and bison meat became in demand.”
Bobbi said while she grew up helping on the farm with her two sisters and mother Joanne, but really began her role in taking over the farm when she, her husband Allen and their daughter Maddy, moved back to the farm in 2007 after Collins was diagnosed with cancer.
“It just transitioned into taking things over while he was still living,” Bobbi said. “We were doing everything together.”
“You can only learn it through doing it,” added Allen.
After getting into raising bison, Collins continued to manage his other business which also included home building and Bobbi said for them to keep it viable, the farm would have to stand on its own.
“This kind of became his hobby and we had to transition it into a business,” she said.
Part of that transition involved local technicians in the Natural Resources Conservation Service to assist in establishing a rotational grazing program, reseeding pastures and hay fields and installing a more efficient watering system through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
“It was great to learn the proper way to rotationally graze in order to extend the life of their pasture,” Bobbi said. “Good pasture management is everything. Over graze and your fields won’t grow back.”
Regular reseeding increased their hay production and the waterers are cleaner and require much less labor, Allen added.
Collins started meat sales off the farm about 15 years ago but demand for the meat has far outpaced what they can produce on the land they have and within their schedule which includes both Bobbi and Allen working full-time off the farm.
They are looking to scale back on retail sales and concentrate on live animal sales.
Many of their calves over the years have been sold to people starting herds up and down the East Coast.
“We’re much more comfortable at between 40 and 50 head.” Bobbi said. “It’s just a really neat thing to be a part of and to be able to see it come full circle.”