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Roundup and Release

For the past seventeen years the Cheyenne River Ranch (CRR) has been our home. The move from the Broken Heart Ranch (BHR) to the CRR was driven by three factors: 1) The land around the BHR was becoming very commercialized and there wasn't much opportunity for growth. 2) The CRR had opportunity for growth, where large landscape conservation would be possible. 3) The land on the CRR came with a 24,000 acre grazing permit on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. There were just two caveats to that permit: 1) The American Buffalo weren't one of the permitted species... what? We quickly rectified that. 2) We would need to build twenty-four miles of buffalo fence, which we were able to do with the help of the Nature Conservancy. Bison Herd in Shadow of Black HillsAll animals that graze public lands, must have identification of who they belong to - our identification would be an ear tag. We spruced up the existing corral system with the guidance of Dr. Temple Grandin and did our first round-up and ear-tagging a year later. I believe we are some of the gentlest buffalo handlers around, and with Dan's leadership and the assistance of other buffalo handler/friends all went well. Days later the buffalo were released onto the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, roaming their homeland once again after a 200-year absence. It was moving and emotional. But, I'm not going to lie, it was stressful on the buffalo and the people. Thereafter, we didn't ear tag annually. But as the years passed and as our land base and herd grew, along with other herds of bison on the Pine Ridge Reservation and Badlands National Park, which also border the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, it became increasingly important. Bison & BirdsWe always want to be transparent with you about our management, so here is the run-down on our round-up. Days before we start working the buffalo they are brought into a 200-acre pasture that's next to our newly constructed corral system.Bison at SunsetThere are water tanks inside the corrals and Colton has also placed grass hay throughout the various pens. The gates are left open, giving the buffalo access to the water and hay, and to get them comfortable with moving in and out of the system. Colton has spent many days doing any needed repairs and working out any kinks learned from the prior year.  The night before we start working the buffalo, the herd is rounded-up and brought into the largest part of the corral, which too is supplied with water and plenty of grass hay. Bison CorralOur buffalo crew consisted of family, including the little boys, Wild Idea Buffalo staff members and one of our neighboring sourcing partner's foreman. We met early each morning at the corrals and Colton gave us our directions, complete with safety and humane handling instructions, before we began. The buffalo are moved in batches through a series of pens within the corral system. The pens become smaller as they get closer to the squeeze chute and the number of buffalo in each pen is reduced with each pen size. There are also a series of heavy gates that need to be opened and shut quickly. It is physical work and occasionally requires one to bring out their inner gymnast. My position was manning the back of the smallest pen, prior to them going through the chute. Between the dust from the bison and the wind, we become covered in dirt and our eyes burned red. I snapped a selfie for documentation once I got home. Yikes.

At this point, the buffalo are moved forward four at a time. This requires immediate reaction in cutting back the rest and speediness in closing and opening gates.Jilian worked closely alongside Colton, recording information on a computer, while Dan monitored all and manned a gate. Colton estimated three days to work through seven hundred head of buffalo, but we wrapped it up in two, as all went very smoothly. At the end, we gathered inside the barn for a beer, a hot meal and a group shot. The outside crew, worn out, now resembled coal miners.While the inside crew, although plenty worn out, looked a whole lot better. The buffalo also celebrated, now back out on pasture, gathered in their family groups and free to graze. They stayed there for a few days before we released them onto the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Bison Family GroupOur buffalo have crossed the Cheyenne River around this time of year for the past sixteen years and they know the drill.As Colton lead them through the gates that took them to the Cheyenne River, their pace picked up before hitting the cold water. Bison RunningThe splashing sounds of hundreds of thousands of pounds of buffalo hitting the water filled the air. Bison River CrossingA few stopped for a drink along the way before gathering on the other side.Bison at RiverColton is now beside me and we both turned as the sound of splashing shifted to thousands of hooves climbing the river banks. It was incredible to witness!BisonThey are once again roaming on your public lands. Lands that they have called home for over 170,000 years. And, yes - it is still moving and emotional. 

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32 comments

  • Wow truly amazing to read and the photos! Thank you for sharing!

    Brenda Curwick
  • Magnificent writing, story, pictures and moral message; doing the right thing against all odds. It gives one hope! Thanks so much for all you do.

    Patti Lattanzia
  • Just finishing your book “Dan O’Brien Wild Idea Buffalo & Family”. This round up and release article brings everything into perspective for me. Hope to visit some day from Bellingham WA. a 1946 baby boomer.

    David Fox
  • Much love and respect to all of you for all that you do!

    Pat OBrien
  • Loved this story. Thank you for sharing.

    Joyce Cross
  • Thank you for sharing! My days growing up on an Iowa farm were long, long ago – but seeing the dusty faces that care for these beautiful animals brings back fond memories. Keep up the great work. The fruits of your labor are much appreciated by me and my family.

    Jon Bormann
  • Wonderful writing Jill and the pictures delight me. I grew up working cattle in eastern South Dakota and I remember having that dusty face.

    Wish I could be closer to play a tune for you at the end of the day. During this pandemic I have been sharing some of your posts with friends around the world and they seem to be comforted (as I am) by the efforts you are making .

    Bless you all.

    Marie Tesch
  • We’ve repurposed an old, cast off, chest freezer into our basement and are awaiting our second order into it. You inspire one to get creative about sharing more of your excellent meat products. THIS Thanksgiving there’ll be a bison roast alongside the turkey for our Lakota daughter to come enjoy with us. After struggling so many years with the prevalent threats to health and well-being that she and her reservation family have had to endure, she’s matriculated into a tenured university professor, A toast to your part in helping us celebrate!
    .

    Vernon Cross
  • Yes! Well written, well photographed.
    Never tire of reading about those buffalo, that land and your crew.

    Kathy Antonen
  • I’ve gone through about the same process with cattle, and and I know how hard the work is, and how rewarding it must be to see the bison roam free again. Thank You All. .

    Donald Street
  • Thank you so much for the story and the pictures. I never get tired of seeing, hearing about, reading about, anything about bison (including, yes, even eating bison occasionally)!! Your stories give me hope about the world.

    Lisa Musgrave
  • Having recently moved from rural Custer SD to Nashville TN due to a double lung transplant I really miss the place where the buffalo roam. I have been a supporter and admirer of what you have been doing for many years now and not only enjoy the the meat you harvest but also the story you tell. Thank you for all that you do and share.

    David Thoreson
  • Thanks so much for sharing the story and photos of tagging. Such a fan of your hard work and what you are doing there with friends and neighbors.

    Cindy
  • You have accomplished a wonderful life for these magnificent beasts! Thankyou for caring enough to make this home possible for them! Your photos and story has moved me to tears of joy! I will share with all of my friends! I am a donor to the Kansas Conservancy.

    Pat Warner
  • Thanks SO MUCH for sharing this story. In the midst of so much disheartening news, it is so welcome. Tonight when I go to bed, I will call it to mind and I am sure to fall and say asleep more easily than has been possible lately.

    Linda Clark

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