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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  • Jill—As always, this story, as do all your and Dan’s stories, highlights the passion and compassion the two of you have for our environment. I have a question: When a bison dies out on the range, do you leave it there to decompose, or move it or bury it or what?

    James E. Swab
  • What a beautiful story. Nature is full of miracles and love. How wonderful to watch it unfold. Thank you for the reverence you show to all of nature.

    Sandy G
  • No, you’re not a hopeless romantic, it’s familiy relationship and taking care of each other. That’s what the Bufflo Nation does.Still, it’s a wonderful and heartwarming story and I cannot thank you enough for sharing it.
    I follow your blog from this side of the pond and I love your photos and stories. Wish I could feast on Buffalo meat once again… especially yours.
    Best regards from Germany.

    Sybille Crane
  • Thank you for sharing the circle of life.

    John ingram
  • Thank you so much for that wonderful story.

  • Love your and Dans stories and photos, keep up the good work. God bless you and yours.

    Bob Watland
  • Love stories of nature. I love to watch bison and study them for my art work and injoyment

  • Jill: Thank you so much for this much-needed dose of Hope in these times of global disarray.
    There’s so much we can learn from Nature.

    I do hope that you and your family will someday publish your essays and photos.

    Keith and Kay Lewis
  • I really appreciate reading your stories Jill and the photos are wonderful too..

  • Thanks Jill what a lovely story…….

  • Just found about and ordered from you; cannot wait to become better acquainted through your sharing your way of life, writings, etc. Spent my childhood in rural Minnesota and treasure the memories of a lifestyle I thought was gone. So good to hear there are others like me!

    Kathleen Hall
  • Thanks for sharing your close connections with the buffalo and the prairie – I treasure your intimate relationship to such a vibrant ecosystem. Your words and those of Dan often cause an ache in my heart and a catch in my throat. Our place in the natural world is enriched by experiences like this. Although Ohio does not have the grand expanses of the prairie, we do have our moments of deep connections even in our residential garden. Looking forward to Dan’s next book! And our trip to South Dakota next summer when we hope to stop in the prairie.

    Ohio Jan
  • This sounds like it could be a chapter of Peter Wohlleben’s new book, “The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion—Surprising Observations of a Hidden World.” (author of “The Hidden Life of Trees”). I will hear him read and discuss his findings in March in Cambridge, MA. We have lots more to learn about animals. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely storing—and for the photos that illustrate it.

    Linda Clark
  • What a wonderful story, told by one who notices/knows the intricate relationships between sentient beings some people know as “just animals.” Don’t get me started about that little phrase. I can get insanely POed at those who don’t notice/know. I wonder how they can be SO oblivious about the other beings who share this spinning rock with us and their outrageous stupidity angers me because that idea leads to the destruction of our spinning rock for money.

    Laura Culley
  • What a amazing situation to be able to observe played out. Empathy and compassion expressed probably with more grace than some humans. Thank you for sharing.


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