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.