Still recovering from Halloween? My supply of mini-candy bars is slowly diminishing. Although Snickers still reign supreme, there are delicious little Heath bars, Hershey’s dark chocolates, almond joys, Reese’s cups…

Still recovering from Halloween? My supply of mini-candy bars is slowly diminishing. Although Snickers still reign supreme, there are delicious little Heath bars, Hershey’s dark chocolates, almond joys, Reese’s cups…

My relative discovered Countryside MD is run like a private enterprise. This past cold, damp Halloween night he took his little mummy and cape-shrouded pirate-thief to go trick-or-treating. Ten houses later, not one person had answered their door. The resident of the 11th house stuck her head out and asked “did you not get the e-mail?” What e-mail? “Because of the weather, Halloween will be held Saturday night.” Oh. The little goblins were then driven to the old neighborhood celebrating Halloween regardless of the weather!

The wild turkeys are banding together into large flocks of multiple ages and sexes. It’s a fall/winter turkey thing. I counted thirty-five grazing and sun bathing in one field this week.

November 2nd was National Bison Day. It just so happens the bison roundup was being held at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska, OK. Over 100 interested people met at the Bunkhouse for a light breakfast of tiny cinnamon rolls, muffins, coffee and tea. The group was welcomed and introduced to the Chapman-Barnard Ranch. A little history. Two cowboys from Texas wandered up to Glenpool OK in 1910 and made their fortunes in oil. They later bought up leases and land in the Pawhuska area, amassing nearly 100,000 acres.

The Barnard portion of the ranch through time had been whittled down to 30,000 acres. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) purchased this in 1989, and later added an additional 15,000 acres (leases and sales) from local sources. About 25,000 acres are devoted to bison. Another eleven thousand acres have been set aside for prescribed burning trials; TNC has partnered with OK State University to show this type of field maintenance works as well for cattle as it does for bison.

At present 2,800 to 3,000 American bison (Bison bison) live in the preserve. Yes, the scientific name is actually Bison bison! During the days of the roundup, 300 to 500 bison are processed each day, about one bison per minute. The chute system is about 50 feet long and divided into 5 sections. A bison is put into each section. The head chute has a squeeze which secures the head. The width varies from 36 inches for adults down to 18 inches for calves. With the animal immobilized, anti-worming liquid is given both subcutaneously and orally as well as shots for Mycoplasma bovis and general health. The microchip in one ear and circular tab in the other ear are checked for identification. Each bison, unless a calf, is already registered in the computer record system. The animals are weighed. Heaviest so far has been 1804 pounds. In the remaining chutes other examinations are made.

The bison are separated by age and sex. Bison designated for market are given no shots or meds. The color ear tab is replaced with a silver USDA ear tab for interstate travel. These animals are put into separate pens. The mothers with calves are released into the north pasture. The younger males and females to stay at the preserve are released to the south. Careful. They often dash across the road after their ordeal and head for open fields.

While visitors watched the processing, a huge racket commenced at the far end of the chute system. The next bison did not appear. A cowboy ran along the pathway next to the chutes yelling “he’s raising hell; he’s going to be sold.” The man opened up a pen where the angry bison was then released. The 5-year-old bull stood over 6 feet at the shoulder and had already gored two other bison. The comment “that bad boy is going to become buffalo burger.” A few minutes later the rest of the bison began coming through the system like clockwork.

At lunchtime over BBQ and fixings, another talk was given by the ranch director. After rehashing the bunkhouse talk, he opened up the floor to questions.

“What happens to the bison?” Some go to the meat market but others go to supplement private and public herds throughout the country.

“How do you decide who goes where?” In the chute system, the nether regions of female cows are checked to determine whether they are pregnant or whether the udder is wet or dry. If the udder is dry and she is over 10 years old, she goes to market. If the udder is wet, this indicates she is nursing a calf and she will be kept and released to the pastures. Males over 6 years old, or cop an attitude, are taken to market.

In the herd, a ratio of one bull for every 5-7 cows is good. During the roundup, determinations are made which cows and young bulls are kept versus those sent to market. The calves are not sold at this time. A female cow can’t breed before the age of three years. One-year old calves remain with their mothers. Most calves are born in spring, but smaller yearlings are called dinks. The dinks are separated and put into a separate field of fescue and fed protein supplements. The dinks are sold the next spring to go into other herds.

“How diverse is the herd?” The geneticists prefer blood but this is difficult to get from a 1500-pound animal in a squeeze. In one of the chutes the tail is grabbed and a handful of fur is pulled from the very end off the bone. Genetic testing began five years ago. Through careful procurement, culling and detailed records, the geneticists say the tallgrass bison herd is the most diverse and one of the purest in the US.

“How do you tell the age of a bison?” When a new calf comes through, a part of their bottom is shaved and they are branded with the year they are born.

“What about brucellosis?” The female calves are vaccinated, but not the males since in males the shot causes sterility.

“What diseases are the vaccines for?” Worms, in particular the Barber pole worm from Africa and Mycoplasma bovis. This may be a naturally occurring organism, but when bison become stressed, it migrates to the lung and causes thick accumulations of mucus and reduces breathing. The bison slowly suffocate and die within three months. Mycoplasma bovis was first seen in the Ted Turner herd of 60,000 and nearly half died in one year. Turner funded private research to develop a bison-specific anti mycoplasma bovis vaccine. The cattle vaccine would not work on bison. Vaccines for blackleg and Bovine respiratory disease may also be administered.

“Do bison die during the roundup?” Bison freely roam the gentle hills and are only in pens during the annual roundup. Five to seven bison will die due to stress. The Tulsa Zoo comes to fetch the bodies which will feed their meat eaters.

The population of the American bison is now stable, but the conservation status is ‘Near Threatened.’ These wild denizens of the prairie need to be treated with the greatest of respect.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.