The picturesque, rolling hills of southern Indiana—more suited for pasture than row crops—are a haven for the state's cattle producers. On a narrow road snaking through the countryside west of Bedford, Indiana, a herd grazes on a hillside next to a pond. On the other side of the blacktop, young bulls are grouped into large pens, standing in clusters or eating from feed bunkers along the fence line.
From a distance, the barns, silos, pasture and crops could be just another large cattle operation, if not for a sign proclaiming the property as Feldun-Purdue Agricultural Center and home of the Indiana Beef Evaluation Program.
The farm's origin dates to the 1830s, when it was part of extensive land holdings of Moses Fell, a prominent Lawrence County settler. Fell's last surviving family member, Moses Fell Dunn, donated 360 acres to Purdue University in 1914. (See related article, "A Proud Hoosier History.")
It was the first property outside of Purdue's home county to be designated for experiment work.
This lasting legacy of the Fell and Dunn families celebrates its centennial in August; Feldun-PAC is Purdue's oldest, active research farm at the same location. It was donated the same year Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service.
Bequest Just the Beginning
The Purdue Experiment Station, which oversaw research and Extension activities in the early years, wasted no time putting the bequest to use.
In 1915, the orchard was renovated and crops planted to determine suitability of the fields for experimental work in soil and crop improvement. A few years later, the orchard renovation was paying off—the apple harvest improved from a mere 200 bushels to 8,000 bushels.
The outbuildings mark different phases of the farm. A limestone chimney and fireplace from a long-ago log cabin still stands as does the apple shed where produce from the orchards was processed. The repurposed poultry houses are a reminder of a period when a variety of livestock was raised here. An open-sided pavilion, built by Purdue in 1935, hosted the Lawrence County fair, and a silo from the former Lynnwood-Purdue Agricultural Center in Carmel, Indiana, stands sentinel. A modern pole barn houses the office and shop.
The farm expanded as small tracts of neighboring land became available. Today, the Feldun-Purdue Agricultural Center encompasses 880 acres, with an additional 300 rental acres. The farm transitioned to a narrower focus on beef cattle breeding management and forages.
"The history of the Feldun-Purdue Agricultural Center truly highlights the need for outlying research farms across Indiana," says Jerry Fankhauser, director of Purdue Agricultural Centers. "Applied research efforts at Feldun-PAC have changed and evolved over the years, and work done at this farm at present reflects the needs in the Indiana beef cattle industry."
A "Bull" Market
Feldun-PAC has marked many changes during the last century—the orchards have been removed, and the limestone quarry mostly played out. But one of the most pivotal changes occurred in 1989, when the Indiana Beef Evaluation Program, commonly called the bull test station, moved to Feldun.
The semi-annual bull test houses bulls for 146 days each summer and winter. Animals are evaluated for genetic defects, growth, meat quality, structural and breeding soundness and expected progeny differences, or EPDs.
"The test provides opportunities for breeders to see how their bulls perform compared to other breeders' bulls in an on-farm environment," says Terry Stewart, Purdue animal scientist and IBEP secretary/treasurer.
Bulls scoring in the top two-thirds of the test, based on performance and structural and breeding soundness exams, are eligible for the IBEP bull sale. "We're confident we have been able to improve the genetics of Indiana's breeding herd through the sales of high-quality bulls. But the sale is secondary to educating producers and providing them with reliable data," Stewart says.
"The bull test station shows the great partnership between Purdue Agricultural Research and Extension and Indiana beef producers who volunteer their time and talent to make the bull test station successful," Fankhauser says.
The majority of seed-stock producers submitting bulls are from Indiana, although bulls have come from 21 states and Canada. More than 10,000 bulls have been tested since 1976.
"In the past, producers bought a bull from a sale barn or a neighbor," says Brad Shelton, Feldun-PAC superintendent and manager of the test station. "They would breed their cows, then take the calves to the sale barn, and that was that. The bull might look good, but looks aren't everything. Data collected during the bull test takes the guesswork out of buying a bull."
Improving Local Herds
Producers agree. At the test station's 73rd sale in April, 118 bulls sold for an average $3,826, with the top-seller bringing $11,000. Both figures set new sale records.
"I've bought three bulls from the Purdue sale, and they are fantastic," says Judy Chandler, who raises registered Angus on a 400-acre farm near Bedford. "The calves are healthy—I think they're born running. And I haven't had to pull a calf since I've had a Purdue bull."
Chandler was new to farming when she decided to make a go of the farm following her divorce. She credits Richard Huntrods, Feldun-PAC superintendent from 1993-2011, with teaching her how to choose a bull based on what she wanted to do with the calves.
"Richard was a great help when I went into the cattle business," she says. "I wanted to learn how to do things the right way. Purdue offered a lot of educational programs about forage, about cattle, about anything you needed to know or needed help with. Believe me, Purdue's there for you."
It's not just the IBEP bulls that have benefited Indiana producers. Feldun-PAC has sold replacement heifers from its Angus-Simmental herd. Chandler bought some, as did Hunter von Leer, who runs about 100 head on 600 acres near Mitchell, Indiana. "My entire herd is first, second, third or fourth generation from those original Purdue cows," he says. He's also had a string of successes in submitting bulls to the test. Twice he's won the top award for carcass merit.
A movie and TV actor for 40 years, von Leer returned to his home state and started a second career as an Indiana cattleman. He's bought four bulls from test station sales.
"I realized in just one season the difference a quality bull makes," von Leer says. "Your herd sells better. People come to your farm before you even have your calves, wanting to purchase them because they already know what they're going to look like. The bulls have done exactly what Brad (Shelton) and Richard (Huntrods) told me they would do to increase my herd and give me the quality I want."
A Proud Hoosier History
When George Grundy Dunn and Julia Anna Fell married in 1841 they united two prominent, pioneer families that would continue to influence south central Indiana's development, commerce, education and public policy for years to come.
Both families had amassed large land holdings—properties that would later become integral to the future of Indiana's two largest state universities.
The Dunn's eldest son, Moses Fell Dunn, a businessman, state legislator, lawyer, world traveler and philanthropist, would become the catalyst for agricultural innovation in Lawrence County. This Bedford native son attended Hanover College, followed by a post-graduate course at Harvard and several years of study in Europe.
He returned home in 1865, served in the state legislature in 1867 and began his law practice in 1872. In addition to running family business concerns, he helped his mother run Feldun Fields, one of the family's farms, after his father's death in 1857. He sold land passed down from his ancestors to Indiana University, where much of the Bloomington, Indiana, campus is located.
Dunn was convinced that fruits such as grapes, apples, cherries, peaches and pears would grow in the southern Indiana climate as well as they did in California's. During the 1890s, he planted 6,000 trees to demonstrate his theory, and his efforts were key to starting the area's apple industry.
The family also had limestone quarries, including one on Feldun Fields. The Dark Hollow quarry produced an exceptional quality of limestone, the type used to build landmarks such as the Indiana Statehouse, the Empire State Building and the Washington, D.C. Cathedral.
When his last surviving aunt, Antoinette Fell, died in 1914, Dunn donated 360 acres of Feldun Fields to Purdue University to be used as an experimental farm to benefit local farmers. When Dunn died in 1915, he left additional acreage and securities to the university.
"The James Dunn Family in Indiana Education," Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 37, No. 2