Buffalo, Botanicals & Birds


As a reader of the Wild Idea Buffalo newsletter, you have seen that everyone here says something about the American Buffalo as a keystone species and about our practice of “ranching for wildlife.” You also know that I am not a scientist, so there is no need to worry that I might load you down with scientific names, nomenclature, and data. I am principally a hands-on, holistic, and fairly careful observer of this rural world in which I live. So, my job today will take a few of my observations and experiences and look at them as both holistic and specific and present them in such a way as to begin clarifying the general term, “ranching for wildlife.”

Since the term wildlife covers a lot of territory, I will restrict my examples to: A) Buffalo, B) Botanicals, and C) Birds.

Buffalo. The presence of the American Buffalo in what I call widescape grazing enhances the quality and diversity of wildlife in that area. First, if the available grazing and water were not at least minimally acceptable, they would not be there. Their hoof prints collect moisture and seeds to provide future biomass to the area. The fur they shed becomes lining in nests and burrows. The dung they leave behind helps plants and insects thrive. An enterprising observer might turn over a dried buffalo chip and be amazed at the amount of wildlife therein. All of these things count in making and retaining a healthy prairie.

Botanicals. Grasses, forbs, shrubs, tubers, and trees. For the immediate purpose let’s take grasses. Specifically, and for easily demonstrable purposes, let’s convert a former wheat field (annual, monoculture) to native prairie grasses (perennials). What often happens in a field dedicated to a single crop type, wheat for example, includes in recent years of minimum tillage planting, the use of a machine that creates a number of small, narrow furrows, drops seeds along that furrow at close intervals, and then covers the furrow. The seeds are often GMOs and sometimes chemically treated to prevent voluntary growth of other plants. Thus, monoculture. Harvest then takes the seed heads, and later the stalks are often baled as straw, which leaves the ground essentially bare. When we take that bare ground and very lightly disk it to break up the surface soil and remaining plant bases, we then use the same kind of machine (described above) to plant a mixture of native perennial grasses, tubers, and forbs in our effort to recreate as near as possible, a native pasture—not to be mowed, not to be sprayed, not even to be grazed for several years while the deep root systems develop. Now we have a habitat for a diversity of wildlife, which brings us to, among other things, birds.

Birds. Partly because of the wide variety of habitat on this ranch, we have a broad and diverse population of birds, both year-round residents and seasonal visitors. I will focus primarily on the ground-nesting visitors of late spring, summer, and early fall. I choose them largely because their presence gives a serious and valid indication of their selected habitat’s health. The various pastures have different botanical demographics. Thus, the observer often will notice corresponding different demographics of the ground-nesting avian inhabitants. The principal prairie visitor, ground-nesting birds include Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Long-billed Curlews, Burrowing Owls, Killdeer, and Nighthawks. I mention these birds in context with replanted former or rested agricultural grounds to demonstrate the difference between native grass pastures and agricultural fields. This distinction also applies to hayfields. We have a large hayfield which we have not hayed (rested) for three years. The Sharp-Tailed Grouse have returned to use it not only for feeding but also for dancing and nesting. Ground-nesting birds cannot nest in areas that will be mowed, particularly if the field is hayed two or three times during the summer. Using that field as part of the grazing rotation greatly improves the quality and abundance of wildlife on the ranch. We lose nothing by not haying, and we gain in both quantity and quality for grazing. In those areas that we have reseeded similar results have occurred. Furthermore, we can see the voluntary spread or distribution of the native plants in those areas.

It took only a few years to decimate the keystone species of the Great Plains. It will require a much longer time to rectify and regenerate the former mindset that mandated that destruction, and which today, in some cases maintains these harmful and exploitative policies. Our job, our mission, our thinking, therefore requires us to consider, first and foremost, the health of the native land (soil) and its entire battery of inhabitants.


  • Posted on by kimberly

    THANK YOU for your awareness and dedication. Long-billed Curlew are one of my absolute favorite birds. I tell my doctor and friends about your buffalo and bird commitment.

  • Posted on by Vernon

    Thank you for your post. My train of thought rapid rails to the children in the reservation schools. As the song goes, "Teach your children well. Their father's hell will slowly go by." As our American Indian children learn the impact of holistic ranching they will surely muster with their non-Indian peers to deter the spread of the insanity that is monoculture crop raised, CAFO beef and help promote the bison you would return to our family table with the dignity deserved. God bless the wooly beasts and all our children for the errand of mercy they've inherited.

  • Posted on by samuel

    I appreciate your newsletter immensely. I feel good buying your products. I used to buy meats from factory farm. I stopped when I discover how those animals are treated. Now I feel enlighten that your organization practices good stewardship to nature and wildlife.

  • Posted on by Barb

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I am in the process of turning, or returning, my tiny, inner city postage stamp yard into a native "food forest". I have gotten lots of positive feedback, but a bit of negative too about my "messy" yard. I try to meet anger with education. I have won over my neighbor next door, because of the abundance of bees, butterflies and birds that have returned to the neighborhood, just because of my one tiny "island." I even had a flock of wild turkeys visit on a number of occasions. Even a tiny patch of change can do an immense amount of good to help restore the natural balance of things.

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