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Winter Grazing

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.
Winter on the ranch
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. 

Buffalo Winter Grazing

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 practices at Wild Idea Buffalo Company are much the same as what nature intended.  Other than a necessary boundary fence, we allow and want the buffalo to be buffalo, even in the harshest of winter months.   

Bison Winter Grazing

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.  

Bison in winter

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. 

Colton Jones

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 bale weighs about a ton (2,000 lbs.) with each buffalo needing about 25 pounds of forage a day. With 300 head of bison this is not so much to feed them, as it is to supplement them with a little snack.

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.

Buffalo in winter

The only sound was about 100 buffalo hooves crushing through snow. 

Bison in 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.

 

 

 

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59 comments

  • Just one more thing that makes Buffalo Gap such a special place.

    Alan Geoffrin
  • Grateful for the information. Great knowing more about the buffalo and their habits. Beautiful pictures of the herd. Gentle giants in the wild.

    Virginia
  • Thanks for posting this wonderful story and photos. Could you tell us about the health of the prairie? Are there healthy prairie dog communities and how do they add to the health of the prairie?

    Mary Ann
  • Great story and pics. I have a question about the hides from harvest. I am looking for hides to make brain tanned robes. Got my area set up and tipi smoke house ready. Just need reasonable priced hides.

    Bob Hoggatt
  • Great food Bison, my meat of choice. Grassfed and finished like they should be. Visited the 777 ranch. Feeds my health and soul.

    Sue
  • Thanks for sharing how you take care of these beautiful animals. Love the fact you give them help when they need it. Planning a trip to South Dakota so my great granddaughter and see the Buffalo in person.

    Ann
  • What a joy to get to see and watch them. I never get tired of watching the herd at Custer State Park. Isn’t this an awesome state!

    Sue Olson
  • Beautifully written, as always. Your love of the animals, the inter-connectedness of life, the necessity of freedom and wildness in the whole process of what you do and how you do it, is always and forever an inspiration to me. Every time I enjoy some Wild Idea Buffalo, I feel like I am honoring the sacrifice of one of your majestic animals, ingesting the fresh air, walking the clean rugged hills. Please consider indulging those of us who love your writing with another book to bring us home to your prairies and your herd.

    Siggy Palmer
  • My friend and I have traveled South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska extensively, and whereas I’m always excited to see buffalo somewhere on the range without a fence in sight—I’m saddened when more often I don’t see even one. Throughout the grasslands Angus cattle rule the landscape mile after mile, up hill and down. “Where or where are the buffalo?” I’m thinking. Those animals in corrals or on the outside of towns as tourist attractions, I sympathize with, what a life for a grazing animal. . . in contrast, up in Theodore National Park, North Unit, I saw a magnificent buffalo walking alone through waving prairie grass up to its knees, a wildly gorgeous animal in its natural environment! I hope to one day visit your place, if possible. Thank you for all you do to promote these animals.

    Steven G. Reynolds
  • BEEN THERE LOVE YOUR ESSAYS

    MARVIN BRESHEARS
  • THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SIGHTS I HAVE EVER SEEN – I HAVE BEEN CLOSE TO THOSE MAJESTIC BEASTS ONCE OR TWICE AND THEY ARE ONE OF GOD’S GREATEST CREATIONS – THE NATIVE AMERICANS HAD A GREAT RESPECT AND REVERENCE FOR THESE CREATURES AND NEVER KILLED MORE THAN THEY NEEDED NOR DID THEY WASTE ANYTHING THAT THE ANIMAL PROVIDED – AND THEN CAME THE STUPID, MORONIC, IDIOTIC WHITE MAN WHO THOUGHT IT WAS GREAT SPORT TO NEARLY PUT INTO EXTINCTION THESE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES – BUT NOW THROUGH HAD WORK AND DEDICATION BY INDIVIDUALS SUCH AS ARE FEATURED IN THIS STORY THE WHITE MAN HAS FINALLY FIGURED OUT THAT ELIMINATING TOTALLY ONE OF THE MOST MAGNIFICENT ANIMALS ON EARTH IS A TRAVISTY AND A CRIME AGAINST GOD HIMSELF – THANK YOU GENTLEMEN FOR ALL OF THE WORK AND EFFORT YOU PUT FORTH TO GIVE THESE ANIMALS A SHOWING OF CARE AND CONCERN FOR THEIR WELL BEING – GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU WHO DO THIS -STAY HEALTHY AND SAFE AND WARM AND KEEP UP YOUR FANTASTIC WORK

    Michael Lohrengel
  • There is nothing more magnificent than a herd or a single Buffalo. I have collected white Buffalo paintings, statues, and also the great brown Buffalo. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photo’s.

    Karen Mains
  • When I was 13 or 14 I was privileged enough to help a man that owned the Buffalo Inn near Woolrich (Famed clothing line), Pa. He had 40 buffalo that he raised then had butchered & served at his restaurant. It was really a treat to work there I realized as I grew older. Majestic animals. <3

    Kyle Landscaping
  • I prefer pork ribs over beef ribs. But I was wondering how buffalo ribs are. Do you ever Bar-B-Q a slab of buffalo ribs and are they better than pork ribs or similar to beef ribs. I’ve heard that buffalo meat is better than beef. Is that true. I wish I could find a place to buy some to try out. I live by Cassville, Mo. 65625. Enjoyed the story and pictures. Thanks. Gerald Hill

    Gerald Hill
  • Winter seems to be Nature’s reset button! It seems like everything starts over again from being cold shocked. Thank you for this glimpse into the wintery months for the buffalo. They are amazing earth keepers.

    Roxanne Fox

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