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1889 The Last Of The Buffaloes- Branding Bison
In 1902 when Yellowstone Park was experiencing a serious decline in the wild bison, due to poachers and all the usual suspects. Feeling they now have the cause sited and controlled, they needed to import bison to help with genetics and workability. The wild herd was too wild to gather or keep constant track of. It was decided that the new bison would be branded on the horn in small letters and on the left hip in large letters. ” U S ” like they do with their government horses.
Rapid City Journal
Rapid City South Dakota Sep 7, 1939
Story of Branding Is History of Range
By RAYMOND S. GRIFFITHS Pierre, Sept. 6–The South Dakota brand book today contains 6,400 registered symbols of livestock ownership, but the history of the branding iron is centuries old. The modern story of the cattlemen’s mark of ownership is replete with colorful tales of the west tales of range warfare, greed, and bloodshed.
Many a cowboy, if stories are true, set himself up in business in the early range days with only a branding iron and a loose conscience for capital.
The story of branding, together with the cycle of the cattle industry in western South Dakota and parts of Wyoming and Montana is contained in “Cow Country,” a 300-page illustrated bock being prepared for publication by the South Dakota WPA writers’ project.
Twenty-five hundred years ago the Egyptians were known to have used geometric symbols to mark the identity of their cattle. Brands were used in England in the eighth century and a Connecticut law in the eighteenth century stated that horses should be branded where there were animals of different ownership running together.
Rise of Dakota Ranches
The period from 1880-1887 ls western South Dakota marked the rise of the cattle barons who enjoyed the free range. Utopia and built up a vast industry until the devastating winter of 1886-87 cut them down with losses running as high as 80 percent.
Among the best-known cattle companies were the Turkey Track, Mill Iron, Pot Hook, Cross Anchor, Hashknife, Matador. L7, Bow and Arrow and Flying V. The tendency of the early outfits was to select a symbol that could be easily applied, for in those days the branding of hundreds of head of calves each spring was a long process at best.
Selections of individual brands were made for various reasons-originality, initials of the owner, sentimentality, ease in application. “Tex” English who started in business in northwestern South Dakota in 1902 was at a loss for a brand to run on his cattle. Once while standing night guard on a roundup and gazing skyward, it occurred to him that a brand resembling the big dipper would look well on the ribs of his cattle and decided to use it.
The story of the brand runner and brand switcher goes hand-in-hand with the later day stories of the branding iron. A maverick or “slick” belonged, according to the unwritten law of the range, to the man on whose range it was found, and all mavericks were thus branded at roundup time. But unscrupulous persons disregarded this law and made it a practice to round up unbranded animals, slap a hot iron on them and claim them for their own. Often if the animal was a calf and there was a danger of detection the crook might apply lightly some imaginary brand and later when the danger was past run his own on.
Cattle outfits often chose brands that could not be easily switched, although the clever brand switcher was versatile in wielding a hot iron. Not only was brand running, switching and the butchering of someone else’s beef confined to the ‘lone wolves” of the range, but sometimes Supposedly upright ranchers were not above suspicion. A west-river cattleman, although a congenial neighbor, had the reputation of occasionally butchering a beef that was not his own. One day he took a freshly killed carcass to a neighbor whose profanity was as eloquent as his dry humor.
“Here,” called the giver to his neighbor as he drove into the yard, “I brought you a quarter of your own beef.” The neighbor looked over the beef and replied, dryly, “I wouldn’t be a damn bit surprised.”
1908 , Arizona C.J. Jones Catalo Brand
St Louis Post Dispatch
St Louis Missouri Dec 2 1951
Buffalo Round Up and branding
INDEPENDENCE, Kan., Dec. 1.
SHORTLY after Gene Clark opened his buffalo ranch in the copperhead-infested hills of southeastern Kansas, he took out an insurance policy covering public liability and property damage. The company wrote the policy without lifting its corporate eyebrows, but in due course, it dispatched an investigator to Independence to see precisely what a buffalo rancher does.
The agent lingered only briefly and did not say much, but almost immediately after his departure, Clark’s premiums were upped 500 percent.
I am glad that insurance man wasn’t around the other day for Gene’s first full-dress buffalo roundup. His nerves would have received a severe hotfoot. Mine did. Perhaps this was because I never before balanced my bulk for the better part of a day atop a wooden fence, seven feet high and reinforced by telephone poles, while buffaloes thundered past my rubber heels in what seemed to me like rather pronounced fits of pique.
It was, unfortunately, the only way of observing how the strapping, 40-year-old Clark stampeded his herd of 312 bison through an intricate series of branding, inoculations and pregnancy tests preparatory to slaughtering 60 head and selling their,30,000-odd pounds of meat. With the nation’s total buffalo population down to 3700 head, nearly all roaming Government – owned ranges, buffalo steak wholesales at $1.75 and is hardly ever available .at that. The happy-go-lucky Kansan, who in a few years raised the world’s largest commercial herd of the near-extinct animals, is getting ready to cash in on the craving of gourmets for this rare delicacy with its slightly reddish coloring and its hearty game-and-beef flavor.
There are easier ways to make a living. Buffaloes are not the least bit interested in being rounded up, and since their average weight is around 2000 pounds their opinion commands considerable respect. I was able to check this on a couple of occasions when Clark’s shaggy friends ripped through a fence like knives cutting mashed potatoes. Happily, they didn’t pick my fence.
Things looked peaceful enough when our party arrived at the range not long after 7 a.m. It had been too cold for the scheduled chuckwagon breakfast, but both ranch hands and observers were fortified against the razor-sharp wind by a country meal of prodigious proportions. The buffalo were grazing contentedly at the far corner of a 20-acre enclosure. Clark and a couple of his boys got on their mounts to bring in the first bunch.
MOVING in behind the spot where the bison were especially thick, the boys nudged several dozen head away from the rest of the herd and chased them down the muddy field toward the corrals. The bison broke into an awesome run and the men on horseback whooped it up right behind, hollering and waving their big hats like regulation movie cowboys.
I was just beginning to feel like a character out of a Randolph Scott technicolor epic when it became apparent that Gene and the boys were no longer chasing anything. With heads bent low and nostrils emitting fat puffs of steamy breath, Clark’s buffalo steaks propelled their spindly legs into high gear, outran the horses and broke away to the flanks to rejoin their grazing brethren.
The chase had to be re-enacted a couple of times until the first handful of animals, kept in line by funnel-shaped fences, roared into a corral like coal hitting the bin. Body heaving against the body, they shoved each other through the narrow gate in panic. One bison hit a post so hard that the crash was audible half a mile down the field, but buffaloes are seemingly impervious to pain and the animal pushed on with the rest.
The first corral measured 150 feet square and the horsemen galloped into it to drive perhaps half a dozen of their charges into the next enclosure, about 70 feet square. From the second corral, the buffaloes were chased, two or three at a time, into a 12-foot pen. Again the animals resisted fiercely, bucking, dodging or just standing pat with their horns near the ground and their tails wagging in the air indicating silent fury.
Ranch hands descended into the pit with sticks six or seven feet long, poking the recalcitrant beasts and yelling, “Hee-ah, “Hee-ah!” The men never strayed far from the enclosure’s walls. More than once when a buffalo approached them with a fixed glare of its big bloodshot eyes, a man would clamber hastily to safety.
From the last pit, the buffaloes were fed singly into a narrow corridor leading into a unique set of doors and chutes where Clark and his staff of volunteers really moved in on them.
“Gimme a calf:” yelled Gene.
“You gotta calf. John?” hollered a rough-looking citizen who straddled the corridor in the middle of the runway, ready to prod hesitating buffaloes with his cowboy boots.
The boys in the smallest corral maneuvered a calf into the runway and the animal set off in Clark’s direction as if tickled by lightning.
“Woo-woo, here she comes! the cry went up along the way. At the chutes the men were ready. There was only one way for the calf to turn: through a side door into an intricate steel chute. The men, each waiting tensely at his assigned station, moved with precision. As soon as the calf plunged through the open door the gate shut behind it and the rear door of the steel trap was jerked open.
Wham! The calf hit the steel like a hammer and began bucking madly, jumping two or three feet high. But the rear door snapped shut, a V-squeeze hemmed in its body and the front of this amazing metal corset opened to allow the calf’s head to peer out only to snap shut again and put a lock around its neck.
Now the rear gate opened and Otto (Doc) Mayberry pulled his branding iron out of the smoldering fire. Taking care not to get too close to the rear hoofs, he approached, stuck the iron into the calf’s backside and branded the animal with an “I,” for 1951. Smoke went up at the branded spot and there was the smell of burnt wool.
UP in front, meanwhile, J. T. McGinity, the rubber-gloved veterinarian, inoculated the calf against Bang’s disease and Blackleg. McGinity, a burly ex-G.I. of Irish descent, is, as one of his pals put it. “the only guy crazy enough to doctor these buffs.” ” In fact. 10 veterinarians in various Kansas towns previously turned down the job and Clark was growing worried because only two years ago it looked as if Bang’s disease might wipe out his whole herd.
Now the chute’s side was pulled open and the lock went off the calf’s head. The animal was free, but it took a while for the fact to sink in. When it did, the buffalo took a flash-like sidestep, bucked out of its prison in a gigantic jump and disappeared into the fields in a burst of clattering hoofs.
Clark was ready for the next customer, an enormously hairy bull. Bulls come along on roundups only because they can’t be separated from the rest of the herd. They needn’t be branded and they already have been inoculated. The problem is to channel them safely out of the corral.
“Bypass, bypass!” went the shouts along the corridor, and at the front end, cleverly placed between the chutes, a door went open. The bull charged through the runway and out the door back to pasture.
After another calf or two went through the prescribed paces the boys in the smallest corral reported they had a cow ready. This time the animal went through still another door into a wooden chute about eight feet high and built, it seemed, solidly enough to hold an elephant. Yet when the cow’s nose hit the rubber tires nailed to the front of the chute, the contraption quivered like jello. Again the branding iron and the hypodermic needle were applied, but this time the vet also moved in for an obstetrical examination.
This, Clark claims, has never been performed on buffaloes before. Gene is hardly the man to conform to convention and even he was a little bit worried about the dangers of giving a bison an on-the-spot pregnancy test, but he felt he couldn’t afford to slaughter any cows that were carrying calves. Eight out of 10 cows examined during the first couple of hours showed signs of being in a family way. The others had their tails cut square for later identification.
One by one, the buffalo roared in. Frequently, there was little advance warning from the corral whether a bull, a cow or a calf was on its way and the doors and chutes had to be worked with split-second timing. A couple of animals were so infuriated by their treatment that when they were released they plunged blindly ahead, disregarding the path toward the pasture and tearing instead through fences into an enclosure where a couple of horses nervously grazed. The horses were rescued in a hurry.
At noon we repaired to the ranch for another vast meal, this time featuring platters stacked high with delicious buffalo steaks. In the afternoon the buffaloes kept coming. There were no serious mishaps except that that ubiquitous recorder of the contemporary scene, the LIFE photographer, got so wrapped up in shooting close-ups of charging buffaloes that one came within a fraction of an inch of goring him. In the finest tradition of his calling, however, the LIFE man, matador-like, stepped aside as death brushed by.
Any day now, Clark will start slaughtering the cows with the square-cut tails. He stalks them with his rifle on the range, usually from a truck, and shoots them wherever he can. Frequently a buffalo must be shot six or eight times, and no bullets take effect except those landing low behind the ears, severing the neck from the back. As soon as one drops dead, all cars and tractor on the buffalo ranch circle the carcass like covered wagons sheltering pioneer settlers, for otherwise the dead animal would be torn to bits by its relatives. The carcass is then bled and lifted on a truck with a hydraulic crane.
Though Clark has scientifically reduced buffalo ranching to a point of relative safety, he has had close calls. Once, while roping a calf, its uncles and cousins charged the truck and Gene had to leave at 60 m.p.h. with 250 buffaloes dashing through his dust. The animals possess fantastic strength, ripping through car fenders as through paper and able, even after being thoroughly gored in a family fight, to walk off and eat grass, then dropping dead some minutes later.
ONCE Clark kept a strange bull about his 1180-acre place. The animal tore through several fences to join the rest of the herd and the local bulls set upon it. For three days of almost continuous ramming and slugging the outsider, bleeding from dozens of wounds, stood its ground, then dropped in its tracks. Such bloody spectacles are uncommon, but Gene’s buffaloes are so unlike the old, contented bulls bumbling about most zoos that visitors, of whom Clark has had 42,000 in the last year, occasionally pay their 50 cents admission only to take a fleeting look, pile the family in the car and drive away with frightened glances across their shoulders. Perhaps that was why a neighbor was able to do so well by hanging out a sign: “See the Buffalo Ranch 25 cents,” and allowing tourists to inspect the herd from a far-off hill of his own grounds.
Clark has done his best to make spectators forget danger by creating a carnival atmosphere around a little bungalow wherein is sold everything a buffalo yields and that’s plenty. You can buy buffalo picture postcards, stuffed buffalo heads, buffalo wallets, buffalo moccasins, buffalo rugs (naturally insulated and a mere $125), buffalo handbags, and buffalo belts. You can also step up to the counter and purchase, for 35 cents, a “Buffalo burger” of freshly ground buffalo meat sandwiched between a bun.
ABOUT the only buffalo product not on display is buffalo tongue which is black, weighs an average 15 pounds and is so tender and tasty that the Indians in the old days cut down bison for the tongue alone. If you get on good terms with Clark, however, however, he might let you have a little for $3 a pound.
In the last week of April and the first few days of May, Gene expects his herd to get another boost with the birth of about 150 calves. About 90 percent of the buffalo babies are born in that period and no cows require or tolerate obstetrical attention. A visiting doctor from Cleveland worked himself into a mild frenzy one afternoon when he observed a calf being born. He wanted to rush out and lend a hand, but Clark told him that he had even had a healthy calf born upside down and backward and that the doctor should stay inside Gene’s $25,000 fence if he cared ever to see any of his Cleveland patients again.
Tourists often have queer ideas about buffaloes. A New York dowager saw a calf kick its mother and ran to Clark in indignation. “Make that calf stop,” she said, “it’s going to give that buffalo cancer!” And in the summer, when a group of underprivileged boys arrived as Gene’s guests for a camping trip, a gang of them slipped out of their quarters at sunup, climbed the fence and chased the buffaloes around for sport. Luckily, the animals were in a convivial mood and Gene was able to stop the expedition before anybody was trampled to death.
Fittingly enough, Clark’s fabulous enterprise had its birth in a gag. It happened in 1947. Gene, who was born in Independence and went West as a dead-broke youngster during the depression, was then a prosperous plumbing contractor living on a ranch in El Monte. Calif. His specialty was building swimming pools for movie stars and other citizens in need of swimming pools. Some of Gene’s pools cost $80,000 or so. To say that he was wealthy would be about as extravagant as asserting that Clark Gable appears in movies.
One evening the Clarks were giving a little party. Drinks were served. Talk got around to “turkey burgers,” “chicken burgers” and other burgers then sweeping west coast roadhouses. “Why not buffalo burgers?” asked somebody. The ensuing laughter was uproarious, and when it abated it was agreed that there were hardly any buffaloes left. Hadn’t all but about 20 head been slaughtered by 1900?
The argument stuck in Gene’s mind and he set out to prove that buffaloes could be raised. He found the Government would sell him a few for $80 a head (lately the price has risen to $125) if he could prove he had the land and other facilities to care for them and would use them for further propagation.
That did it. Gene packed up his wife, Faye, and his two youngsters, moved back home to ‘ Independence, bought some uncultivated land with a waterhole thoughtfully provided in the thirties by the WPA (at a cost of $48,000), put up the strongest fence he could get, and put himself in business. He is now so big that the Government has refused to sell him any more buffaloes, but the matter of playing nursemaid to bison is so finicky and risky that possible competition fails to worry him, even though his investment to date totals about $150,000.
Gene thinks of his buffaloes as other men think of their goldfish. At the end of the roundup’s first day, he invited me to hop on a tractor-drawn wagon and rumble across the range with bales of hay for the bisons’ evening chow. Soon we were surrounded by slowly moving masses of buffaloes. ‘”Here babies, here babies,” said Gene as he threw out the hay and the hulking animals bumped each other and began munching, following us sedately as if they couldn’t harm a butterfly. Gene turned around with his broadest beam and said: “Ain’t that something?”
HEADING FOR THE BRANDING IRON – Oct 1963
(Robert Larsson Photo)
This is the last of the National Bison Range calves to be branded. The 68-pound calf is being carried by Ed Krantz and on the right Jack Lambshire. 100 bison were culled for butchering in Moise after the inspection, that left a remainder of 350 animals. Weighing in at 1,925 pounds was the largest bull.
The Press Democrat
Santa Rosa, California Aug 11 1974
Why not detour to Montana, where the buffalo roam?
MOIESE, Montana – An historic chapter of the Old West lives on in the grassy meadows and rolling hills of Montana’s Flathead Valley.
This is the home of the American buffalo, the 19,000-acre National Bison Range. Visitors coming through the majestic Mission Mountains 50 miles north of Missoula can see these shaggy-haired beasts roaming contentedly here.
This sanctuary, one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States, was established in 1908 to help preserve some of the last remnants of the once-great buffalo herds that ranged throughout North America. From an original 41 animals moved onto the refuge by the American Bison Society, the herd has grown to over 300 head.
“We try to maintain an average of 325 bison here, explains range manager Marvin R. Kaschke. “With the birth of calves each spring, the number increases to over 100 head. We have an exceptional calf crop here, as much as 89 percent.”
Bison belong to the cattle family and graze heavily. To keep the animals from eating themselves out of a home, Kaschke and his staff have developed what is known as a “deferred grazing program.” “We split our animals into two herds.” Kaschke points out, “and fenced the range into eight separate pastures. We rotate the two herds each three months to different pastures.”
This allows the prairie grasses to seed and re-establish themselves before the pastures are grazed again.
Observation and photography may be done at relatively close distances by taking the self-guiding automobile tour. This well-maintained gravel road winds 19 miles through the heart of the Bison Range.
One Of Montana’s popular tourist attractions in the herd of nearly 400 bison on the Moiese National Bison Range. Each fall they’re rounded up for counting, inoculations, and branding,
“We require all visitors to remain in or near their cars while on the tour.” emphasizes Kaschke, ” because bison are totally unpredictable and may charge without provocation. A big bull may weigh over a ton, so you know it can do some damage.”
Other wildlife present on the range includes both whitetail and mule deer, elk, antelope, and bighorn sheep. Many may be seen on the self-guiding tour. The refuge also contains small display herds of bison, elk and deer for those who can’t take the tour. A nature trail has been constructed and there is a large, shaded picnic area.
One of the year’s highlights at the National Bison Range is the annual “roundup”‘ in October. Riders on horseback herd the animals into corrals for official counting, vaccinating and branding.
The National Bison Range stays open year round but the tour road is limited to travel only during the summer months, June 1 through September 30, seven days a week. The range is located just off State Highway 212 at Moiese, near the towns of Ravalli and Ronan. Part of the range may be seen from U.S. Highway 93, which passes through both towns.
Branding For Life – Dec 14, 1980
Will it hurt?
Here in Illinois, there are standards set by the Department of Agriculture that branding irons must meet. Like a one-quarter-inch gap must be left where one part of the brand meets another.
If the brand is an “F,” there must be a quarter-inch space between the vertical leg and the horizontal one. A circle, for example, must be broken into four equal parts with a quarter-inch space between.
These spaces help stop blotching.
While horses and cattle differ in pain levels, you need the experience to know the animals being branded.
The branding, when applied correctly does not hurt the animal, it burns off the hair and will leave a scar on the hide, but it doesn’t burn into the hide.
The iron should not be ‘red’ hot, slightly less than that where 5-10 seconds is long enough to apply the brand.
People have been branding livestock since others have been stealing livestock.
Andres got his brand, the A Plus, on March 9, 1979, after he lost 32 calves valued at $12,000 to rustlers. He branded 40 head last year and lost none of them.
The Department of Agriculture suggested it as one way to prevent thefts of his Angus-Hereford crossbreds and to register your brand.
The Daily Chronicle
DeKalb Illinois May 21 1995
USDA seeks end to jaw branding
WASHINGTON Federal regulators, responding to public concern that hot-iron branding on the jaws of cattle and bison hurts the animals unnecessarily, are proposing a change in branding requirements.
The Agriculture Department’s plan would change the regulations for tuberculosis and brucellosis identification by allowing cattle or bison to be branded only on the hip.
“We are committed to continually evaluating USDA identification requirements to ensure that our methods are both humane and effective for livestock disease control and public health purposes,” said Patricia Jensen, acting assistant secretary for marketing and regulatory programs.
Under current rules, livestock that have contracted or have been exposed to tuberculosis or brucellosis must be identified with a hot-iron letter brand on the jaw or on the hip near the base of the tail.
USDA also is considering alternatives to branding certain cattle and bison that are being moved to another state for slaughter. One plan would allow cattle to be moved without branding if they are accompanied by a representative of the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or a state representative.
Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that causes cattle and bison to abort or have weak or stillborn calves, slow breeding and lowered milk production. It can be transmitted to humans as undulant fever through contact with infected carcasses at slaughter or through consumption of unpasteurized milk.
Bovine tuberculosis is also caused by a bacteria and causes weight loss, general debilitation and sometimes death of the animal. This disease branding also can be transmitted to humans, but the current resurgence of human tuberculosis is caused by another bacteria.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota Jan 2 2000
Ranchers will determine fate of heritage
If they stand for rights in face of development, land will last centuries.
“If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers. – Joseph Wood Krutch.
By LINDA HASSELSTROM HERMOSA
Given an opportunity to consider ranchings’ next century, I thought first of highways, since I’ve driven thousands of miles in ranching country during the past decade. Most people I know think ranching is doomed, if not already dead and buried. I’m not ready to concede defeat because I observe dozens of western rural communities.
It’s true that, as the word “ranchette” has entered our landscape and our vocabulary, if not my dictionary, the old rancher’s familiar rusty pickup with a dog drooling over the tailgate is being displaced by an extended cab pickup or enclosed four-wheel drive hauling a well-clipped dog in a cage.
In my arid western Dakota neighborhood, where ranching preceded statehood, the Heartland Expressway punching south from Rapid City is already spawning convenience stores to serve our motorized society. No one wants to talk about water, the silent partner in any speculation about the future, but the value of agricultural land is constantly debated. Property taxes are rising as ranches are sliced and diced into fragments or bought by hobbyists who fled the city to raise buffalo.
Some bison breeders recommend dehorning and branding the big beasts so one of these centuries they can be as domesticated, and therefore as unpopular, as cows are today.
Livestock magazines sponsored by the same chemical companies that support our agriculture schools recommend machines, technology and chemicals as solutions to all agricultural problems. Of course, profit drives them to prefer gigantic ranches owned by out-of-state corporations managed by guys in business suits.
Some cynics suggest that once all the recalcitrant old ranchers are replaced by politically correct tofu eaters, western South Dakota will be knee-deep in garbage shipped from the East Coast. Now that tourism has moved ahead of agriculture as the state’s primary business, some folks might welcome garbage. We could pave it, providing jobs and creating a limitless parking lot for Mount Rushmore.
A few activists predict the Dakotas will be part of an open range stretching from the Canadian border to the southern tip of Texas, unfenced and untenanted, covered with wild bison, wolves and other native animals. One group even wants to bring back the woolly mammoth but would settle for elephants.
I can visualize a future with elements of all these forecasts. Angry bison chase bicyclists along the paved roads and parking lots of suburbs covering the prairie as far as the eye can see. Folks on ATVs and ORVs and other alphabetical recreational transport aim their movie cameras at a few lean wolves trying to get a little privacy behind surviving examples of Plains plants – sagebrush, tumbleweeds and yucca. Joggers in bright orange elastic underwear pause to scrape elephant dung off their Nikes.
By contrast, in my ideal future, ranching would remain the backbone of the arid shortgrass plains for simple economic reasons. Millions of years of evolution have developed plants best suited to the landscape. The best way to harvest their bounty – so far – is inside a grazing animal.
Plowing caused one Dust Bowl. New residents could revitalize ranching country economically and philosophically while appreciating the history, personalities and conservation work of longtime ranchers. Ranchers would consider new ideas for preserving a pleasant life on these prairies we all love.
Is there a way for people who love the West to influence what happens to ranching in the next century? Forty miles south of my ranch, NO ZONING signs decorate fences through a pretty valley where new houses spring up every week as ranchers exercise their right “to do what I want with my own land.” Those ranchers would probably agree that rights require responsibility.
Other western communities have chosen to prohibit development in terrain best suited to grazing. If Dakota ranchers decide not to decide, they will give up their right to choose their future and may be giving up the right to ranch.
Whether or not zoning is a good method for community planning, I think we could improve our future by teaching people who move into ranching communities how to get the most from their new homes. Just as we might patiently instruct new residents on the dangers of weather and wildfire, wildfire, I’d like to educate folks on the meaning of community, something they came here to find.
The rural western Dakota ranching community where I grew up still enjoys qualities those 1800s pioneers cherished. Many of us don’t lock our doors or take keys out of our pickups – a friend might need a phone or a ride. Agreements may be sealed with a handshake. Spring branding is a traveling potluck as ranch families move from place to place helping one another. “The check is in the mail” usually means someone put it in your mailbox, without detouring through the postal service. Of course, everyone knows everything, meaning neighbor women brought food when my husband died.
A hospitalized friend came home to find neighbors had cleaned her house. She didn’t dare get sick again after they gossiped about the dust balls under the beds. Still, contributing to local legend was a small price to pay for the kinship. As my friend Margaret always said, “neighbor” is a verb.
Ranching communities might adopt an idea from Driggs, Idaho, where a handbook is given to prospective residents of the Teton Valley. “Welcome Home” offers detailed information on soil, wildlife, water rights and weeds. The chapter on grazing, for example, provides detailed tips on native vegetation, riparian management, management, livestock rotation and fencing methods and customs. Suggesting ways to be a responsible horse or dog owner, to burn trash safely, it’s a friendly way to help strangers become informed residents.
Do you hear fiddle music as the last rancher rides off into the sunset? How can we make choices a century ahead?
Did ya’ hear about the rancher who came into the bar and started downing whiskey after whiskey? When a sympathetic friend asked him what was wrong, he shook his head in despair. “Some blan-kety-blank Californian took my ranch away from me.” “That’s terrible. But how could that happen?” The old rancher gulped and said, “The so-and-so met my price.” South Dakota’s citizens will decide the future of ranching here. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” as Edmund Burke said, “is for good men to do nothing.”
Jackson Hole News
Jackson Wyoming Dec 5 2001
Details are the devil in bison ranch plans.
I’d like to respectfully offer several views about Riverton rancher Dan Ingalls’ proposal to graze bison on public lands in the Gros Ventre River Drainage of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. My thoughts stem from having studied bison both in South Dakota and here in Jackson Hole for about five years each and having written a scientific book on the subject (Berger, J. and C. Cunningham, Cunningham, Bison, Mating and Conservation in Small Populations, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994).
Bison are indeed a native species to the ecosystem, and I believe Mr. Ingalls should be commended for his serious consideration to shift from livestock – a species virtually defenseless against native large carnivores – to one that has co-evolved with wolves and bears. The grazing patterns of bison generally are substantially different from those of livestock; this is particularly true over broad areas of habitat diversity, but not when restricted to small paddocks. In these broader systems, local impacts of bison on vegetation and attendant animal biodiversity should be less.
But in short proposals, details are often lacking, and it is for this reason that I would implore resource management agencies as well as the general public to follow up on these issues. Everyone has much to benefit when the details become clear from the outset.
7 issues of contention
Among the issues that are likely to be contentious, I would highlight the following (in no particular order of importance) to be recipients of critical attention:
1) Fencing will need to be permeable to allow continued access to habitat and migration for elk, prong-horn and other species while at the same time assuring that bison do not wander freely. Bison fencing in at least three national parks in South Dakota (Wind Cave, Custer and Badlands) have not been totally successful in containing bison. Who is to determine and then pay the costs of determining whether the fencing has an effect on other species? Do plans for mitigation exist?
2) Densities of bison at the level proposed will be an order of magnitude greater than those occurring under whatever conditions might be considered “natural.” While the topic of “naturalness” is thorny, unusually high densities of any herbivore will assuredly affect the ecosystem, and any putative benefits must be weighed against both short- short- and long-term ecological costs.
3) Hybrid bison – that is those with a small proportion of cattle haplotypes (genes) – typify numerous public and private bison herds. Bison in both Teton and Yellowstone parks do not have “contaminated” genotypes. Thus, despite the best of intentions to fence bison away from national park bison, those in Jackson Hole could become genetically contaminated if they were to breed with “private” bison that have not been tested for genetic purity. Mr. Ingalls has already prudently addressed the issue of vaccination for disease.
4) Public access to fenced areas is a topic not mentioned in the paper, but it is something I am sure Mr. Ingalls has thought about. Is the public to be restricted from wandering, hiking, exploring or driving within the proposed fenced allotment? Who is legally culpable should someone be injured – the USFS, Mr. Ingalls or both?
5) Animals that leave the enclosure might be called escapees. Will all animals be permanently marked so that they can be distinguished from the increasingly widely dispersed Jackson bison? Branding has been used at multiple sites for years, and results have been mixed in terms of permanent marks.
6) Hunting and recapture of escapees were issues that are in clear need of details. Consider two scenarios. First, some animals escape and cannot be rounded up. Are these private animals then subject to legal harvests on public lands? Indeed, would there be any difference between hunting inside or outside the allotment? Second, if bison cannot be recaptured by foot or horse, can helicopters be used? What provisions have been considered for animal capture? If helicopter capture is permitted, there will be a peculiar irony. In the winter, public access is highly restricted so “game” species will remain undisturbed. But, should special access be granted to Mr. Ingalls for winter use, I wonder why other members of the public are not afforded the same treatment.
7) Bears and wolves are not likely to become serious predators of bison, but the potential for this to occur cannot be excluded. In northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, bison are the primary prey of wolves. If this were to occur in the Gros Ventre region, what are the contingencies? Will there be predator control irrespective of when delisting occurs?
Joel Berger, PhD, is a Senior Field Biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Moose.
Mattoon Illinois July 28 2016
Raising bison provides enjoyment to Pearl City resident
In this June 28, 2016 photo, LaVerne Fluechtling watches his 17 wood bison he raises as a hobby on his farm in Pearl City, III. The ‘buffies,’ as he calls them, come when he calls them, and allow him to walk among them.
FREEPORT, Ill. – Pearl City resident LaVerne Fluechtling bartered his way into raising bison: Eight years ago, he traded a couple of Fallow deer bucks for seven bison, and he doesn’t regret the decision.
He now has 17 Wood bison, including five calves called “red dogs.” “They are a pretty easy animal to deal with,” he said. “They have a good memory. They eat grass, and I give them a bale of hay a week along with some oats.”
Fluechtling raises bison mostly as a hobby. Once in a while, he’ll use the meat or give some to friends, but more farmers are raising bison as their meat is in higher demand. Dave Carter from the National Bison Association said bison are adaptable animals that do better in cold climates and do really well in Stephenson County.
“Bison need about 1 to 2 acres per animal,” animal,” Carter said. “It’s also important to have good, sturdy fencing, but it doesn’t need to look like Alcatraz.”
They need good water, good grass, and a good mix of males and females, Carter said. He suggests rotational grazing. “To raise healthy bison, you need to raise healthy grass,” he said.
Both Fluechtling and Carter agree that the bison is a low-maintenance animal. There is no de-horning, no branding, and no castration. Bison can live for 20 years. They start calving when they are three years old, and calf every year after. While some may find it a disadvantage to wait three years for that first calf, calving is a breeze for the farmer, Carter said.
“The female doesn’t want you around,” said Carter. “It’s a good time to go fishing.”
“There’s bison in every state including Hawaii,” said Carter. “They once roamed this land and almost became extinct. Now there are now 500,000 head.”