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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

  • I so enjoy these essays and photos. BTW. The Buffalo River has been absolutely wonderful. I swear I can taste the Prairie when I eat it. The most flavorful and tender liver I have ever had. Bless the beasts and the men who care for them.

    Janet Bonet
  • Great. Love it.Love these iconic animals. Question: What can we do to get the Yellowstone Bison onto the tribal land that has been set aside for 300 of them (as a quarantine)? I read in the “Sacramento Bee” that these animals were slated for slaughter by the hundreds (on the pretext of disease control). Whom would we contact to counter this awful plan? Has anything changed? Thanks.

    Lis Fleming
  • that is nice you take the time to get the hay to them, they do look good

    John
  • thanks so much for this wonderful account of life – for you and he buffalo – in Winter on the Prairie

    Joan Bauer
  • Love to see and hear how winter is going with the bison. I’m on the “East River” side and enjoying temps in the 40’s today…not much snow left!
    Take care…spring is on the way!

    Anne Albers
  • For your stewardship, gentle activism, awareness creating, poetry and visiual artistry. Thank you.

    all business
  • Thank you for succumbing to a morning ride before “work.” Nicely done.

    Lee Myers
  • Great pictures!!

    Anthony Bell
  • Do you sell buffalo or do you know where I could purchase a pair? I want to personally help perserve the heritage. Thank you and may God continue to bless you and yours.

    Reggie Patrick
  • Thank you for continuing to educate us about these majestic creatures. They don’t need us as much as we need them. I am wondering if you all are as concerned about the Yellowstone herd and POSSIBLE Brucellosis as the cattle ranchers are. I realize this is a emotional topic and you may not want to comment. I understand.

    Marta Holmes
  • Thank you for sharing.

    Lois Boatright
  • Beautiful. Loved your presentation. Thank you!

    Regina Carver
  • I am retired now, but I had a stock cow herd in eastern Iowa and remember getting up on cold winter days and taking round bales out to feed them. The animals really appreciate the extra treat and then turn around and go back out in the corn stocks. The pictures really make those bison steaks taste oh so good. We have to admit Mother Nature does a pretty awesome.

    Allan Rathje
  • Wonderful story. Thank you again for all you do so that so many of us can enjoy the fruits of your hard work. I love reading your stories about the buffalo.

    Darcy Eatherly
  • I love reading all this history and are so very happy that you are raising all these buffalo. I can hardly wait to have some meat and cook it! What a delight!! Thank heavens we are able to see this real American animal roam again! Thanks so much for all you do.

    Bea Godbee

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