It has been a full-blown winter here on the prairie. Since our first snowstorm in early December the snow has continued and the cold temperatures have remained persistent.
The snow is starting to lose its charm and the frigid temps are starting to show in peoples' personalities. The only thing that seems unaffected is the buffalo and the wildlife.
Since November our buffalo herd has been on their winter pasture on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. They have 22,000 acres to keep them happy and satiated. We can go weeks without seeing them. To look out the window at the snow-covered landscape it would make sense to ask, what are they eating? Even without seeing the landscape, we get this question often.
For thousands of years, bison roamed over America’s grasslands without our help. They tended to the prairie as if they were the gardeners of a very large lawn, mowing, pruning and fertilizing here and there, keeping the landscape balanced and healthy.
Our philosophy and
Buffalo are very good at foraging for food. They use their big heads, supported by the big muscles in their neck to push the snow away to get to the vegetation.
Per our certification of 100% grass-fed our animals must be on pasture eating the grasses beneath their feet. The only exception to this criterion is for severe, inclement weather, such as heavy snow packed winters or drought.
During winter months getting to the buffalo can be difficult and before we can get to them we have to see them. (Spotting 300 head of buffalo in 22,000 acres is like looking for a needle in a haystack.) If all the stars are aligned and we spot them on the bluff from the house, and if Colton is available, he will bring down a bale of hay. The hay is a mixture of grass with a little alfalfa from our pastures in a good grass (rain) year. The
This Tuesday the stars aligned and so I caught a ride with Colton in the tractor. There was fresh snow on the ground and it sparkled like diamonds in the morning light. When the buffalo could hear the tractor they started to spill down to the river bottom from the bluff and then they lined out our way as we got the bale unrolled.
The only sound was about 100 buffalo hooves crushing through snow.
We watched for a bit while discussing how good they looked. The silence was soon interrupted by chewing and soft grunts, which I interpreted as “thank you”.
By the time I was heading for work in Rapid City, the buffalo had started to climb the bluff where the snow had started to melt. Tomorrows forecast predicts temperatures in the 50’s - a start at thawing the cold on the landscape and in the people.