A Buffalo Love Story

Story & photos by, Jill O'Brien

A few years back, when we moved our buffalo to their winter pasture on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, we left seven behind. They consisted of: a crippled-up older cow with her calf, (who had been keeping to the outskirts of the herd to stay out of harm's way), a young bull (about 2½ years old), which we guessed as the cow's older offspring, three older bulls who had separated themselves from the main herd as they often do after the breeding season, and a motherless cow, which at the time seemed a bit odd.

The motherless cow had palled up with the three big bulls, and the crippled cow/calf pair stayed to themselves, with the younger bull staying within a few hundred yards of them. We monitored the cow/calf pair daily, ensuring that the mother was getting around to food and water. Toward the end of January, after a day of not seeing them, we set out in search for the trio, keeping our distance, so they would not feel pressured.

We found the pair tucked into a hillside, where water flows from a spring year round.  The younger bull was just down the hill, keeping his usual distance, but filling his required hospice duty (at least that what we like to believe).

To ensure that she wouldn’t have to roam for her food, the guys put out a thousand pound, round bale of grass hay close by.  She was as comfortable as she could be in her selected finale resting spot and died within the week. Then, as if on cue, the young bull stepped in and took the now seven-month-old motherless calf into his care and lead it to the others. 

We moved the hay closer to where the others had been grazing, which was within viewing range of the house. Just before sunset, the six would often stop by the hay for a quick, easy snack.

I watched the new band of buffalo with binoculars from the window. The calf would occasionally buck and kick as he ran between the massive bison bull’s watchful eyes. The cow assisted too, nudging the calf now and then when it would lollygag behind as they moved on into the setting golden light.

The whole scene played out as if it was the buffalo's/nature's plan. As a hopeless romantic and one who also believes in the amazing communication of the animal world - I believe it was.

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  • The story was beautiful as well as the photography. Thank-you for sharing. Thank-you also for the compassion that is shown on the ranch.

  • I am so, so sorry that this happened to you. It is such a violation, to have someone in your home, and to do such a thing to you.

    Please do not allow this experience to make you “hard.” I notice some comments on here taking the tone that “The world is awful and scary, protect yourself, get razor wire, barricade yourself in your home (emotionally or physically).” And that is so untrue. Most people are good. Most days are safe. The world is still a beautiful place. You had an awful experience, but you will put it behind you, and you will begin to feel safe again.

  • If it weren’t for the irony that humans are the species that can intellectually and artfully (and emotionally) appreciate the bison I would say that the bison were the “better” (very subjective term) beings. Jill, Dan, et al, thanks for being among the minuscule percentage of people who see deeply. “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” is one of my all-time favorite books.

    David M. Zebuhr
  • So beautiful. Thank you, Jill

  • I just signed up and I am absolutely excited to get involved with your company and I will be ordering our favorite meat.

    Alice Jackson
  • As can only be told from the perspective of an insider! Thanks! ?

    Zee Salinas
  • I’m not sure which I love more: Wild Idea’s excellentl, sustainable products, or this blog. Thank you for another wonderful article written in every day language from the heart. I hope this is as inspiring for others as it is for me.

    Monica Van der Vieren
  • Thank you so much for sharing that. ?

  • Thankful these great creatures are still among us.

    Norma Jean
  • Thanks. That’s the best Valentine’s present. Love to you

  • Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

  • What a lovely sweet story of how God works things out with all his creatures. I am having a very hard time right now, and your story really lifted my spirits. Thank you so much for sharing it. I just love you and Dan so very much. Keep on doing what you are doing, as it is very important to God’s plan in these difficult political days. May the blessings be. Love, Don

    Don Meyer
  • If this story does not touch you….you may not have a heart. Nature working it’s magic.

    Mark Smith
  • Thank you for sharing this story. I recently read “Buffalo for the Broken Heart”. I have a special story of my own about how I came to the book. We’ve just rec’d our first shipment of Wild Idea and I made a delicious meat loaf last night.

    Lisa Abram Nelson
  • The unbroken cycle of life/death. Rare to witness in this world today. Thanks for the story and beautiful photos!
    Jane S.

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