Southern Plains Bison Pointers March 2018

Get Ready – Get Set – Stop!


Bison are unique in that they are tended-wildlife in production models that require some management (and) they require some, ‘being left alone’. Some herds in the southern plains are still engaged in herd-works for good reason, but it’s time to wrap things up and give them the benefit of our absence for the calving season.

One of the reasons for working this late is a clean spring green-up with regard to pasture deposits of internal parasite L3 Larvae. A good clean up this time of year can get your herd off to a healthier start as they prepare to combat parasitism throughout the summer. A de-worming in the fall, and maybe late winter (may) be called for; depending on your Parasitology (in YOUR herd).


Another reason, that I consider good, maybe that the southern plains calves thrive on the extra time on their mother. They become healthier and more resilient yearlings when given the extra time. Remember: calves under 400 pounds are considered ‘pre-ruminant’ in cattle and we can extrapolate the same (ish) for our light bison calves.

Calf Kit: every bison operation should secure the components of a ‘calf-kit’ this time of year. It should contain the following:

  • Some type of colostrum substitute: very important to give in the first 24 hours (1 to 4 is best) to help with the passive transfer of antibodies for resistance to disease.
  • Bounce Back: or any form of energy/ electrolyte feeding for hardship orphans.
  • Milk Replacer: Personally I prefer a quality foal (horse) milk replacer because of its nutrient density and micro mineral inclusion more closely addressing the nutritional needs of bison. Some milk replacers can cause problems, so interact with an experienced bison veterinarian or advisor.
  • Medicated milk replacer: Sometimes they need a little help. Do (Not) rely on this as a sub-therapeutic ‘box checking’ exercise, only a readiness protocol.
  • Human baby bottle: This is a trick that will help you manage a struggling calf, the bottle and the ability to ‘mildly’ force the reward of milk into the calf’s mouth. The process can take 3 feedings before they are associating the bottle with the instinctual nursing behavior. The human bottle also helps regulate the feeding amount. It is very important not to over-feed, per feeding.
  • A Thick Hide: about doing what, and all, you can and leave the rest to what’s meant to be!

Some orphans make it, and some don’t. (Period!). Sometimes we wait too long before making the decision, to make the decision, but always trust your gut feeling so long as your first choice is to have the calf with ‘the’ cow. Personally, I disagree with using nurse cows, or females of other species. I depart from this sentiment if the choice of Au Pair – is (not) a known agent of introgression.