A Family Roundup

During the 20 years of my employment with The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska, I’ve been involved in at least 20 bison roundups (we usually do two a year – one for each herd at our Niobrara Valley Preserve).  Last week’s was my favorite, hands down.  It wasn’t because the roundup went well – though it went as smoothly as any we’ve done.  It wasn’t even because the weather was perfect – though it was.  Nope, it was my favorite because it was the first time it’s ever worked out to bring my kids along.

My son John, laughing with other workers at this year's roundup of the west bison herd at The Niobrara Valley Preserve.

My son John, laughing with other workers at this year’s roundup of the west bison herd at The Niobrara Valley Preserve.

I didn’t get to bring all of them, but everything lined up just right for John and Daniel, who were on fall break from school and were old enough to be helpful and safe.  They had a great time, and the experience was far richer for me as well.

Now, to be perfectly clear, we don’t typically involve kids in our roundups, but I was able to supervise the boys personally and make sure they were safely doing work appropriate to their age and ability.  To begin with, both of them just watched the process to learn how the animals are moved quickly through a series of alleys and gates with as little noise and stress as possible.  Later in the day, they were both able to join in the work.

Daniel spend most of the morning doing "quality control" - helping the recorder keep track of how many animals of each sex and age came through the alleys.

Daniel spend most of the morning doing “quality control” – helping the recorder keep track of how many animals of each sex and age came through the alleys.

Later, Daniel learned how to use a flag to get the bison to move in the desired direction.

Later, Daniel learned how to use a flag to get the bison to move in the desired direction.

Unfortunately, the flag wasn't effective at warding off his dad/photographer.

Unfortunately, the flag wasn’t effective at warding off his dad/photographer.

Like a well-oiled machine, gates were opened and closed to sort animals as they moved through the alleys.

Like a well-oiled machine, gates were opened and closed to sort animals as they moved through the alleys.

Like Daniel, John started as an observer, marveling at the size, strength, and agility of the bison passing by.

Like Daniel, John started as an observer, marveling at the size, strength, and agility of the bison passing by.  Before long, however, he took over a sliding gate.

John seemed to enjoy the experience...

He seemed to enjoy the experience…

Most of the bison were difficult to distinguish from each other, but a few had unique characteristics, including one with a particularly long mop of hair and this one with its kerwhacky horns.

Most of the bison were difficult to distinguish from each other, but a few had unique characteristics, including one with a particularly long mop of hair and this one with its kerwhacky horns.

This was also the first bison roundup for our two Hubbard Fellows, Katharine (middle) and Eric (right).

This was also the first bison roundup for our two Hubbard Fellows, Katharine (middle) and Eric (right).

Katharine did two jobs much of the day, running a gate and also recording the sex and age of the animals as they came through.

Katharine did two jobs much of the day, running a gate and also recording the sex and age of the animals as they came through.

Eric hides behind a gate while bison move past.

Here, Eric is hiding behind a gate while bison move past.

Then he gets to show off his athleticism as he hurdles the fence and closes the gate behind the bison.

Then he shows off his athleticism as he hurdles the fence and closes the gate behind the bison.

After the work settled down, the boys and I took a quick trip to a nearby prairie dog town, where they (fruitlessly) waited for the prairie dogs to come back out of their holes.

After the work settled down, the boys and I took a quick trip to a nearby prairie dog town.  They learned that no matter how long you wait, prairie dogs don’t re-emerge from holes while you’re sitting there.

The roundup was a success because of the help of many staff and volunteers, including Richard Egelhoff (cowboy hat), who recently retired from being our bison manager.

The roundup was a success because of the help of many staff and volunteers, including Richard Egelhoff (cowboy hat), who recently retired from being our bison manager.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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3 Responses to A Family Roundup

  1. Deb Mowry says:

    Thanks so much for great photos of the group, really enjoyed seeing your children helping out, learning and enjoying themselves.

  2. Jennifer Pospichal says:

    What an exciting day! Great photos. How fun to have your children involved.

    Jennifer Pospichal outdoor recreation products 402-289-0400 800-747-5437 1055 North 205 Street Elkhorn, NE 68022 jenniferp@outdoorrec.net check out our website! http://www.outdoorrecreationproducts.com

  3. James McGee says:

    “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

    “The Call of the Wild”, pp. 31, Jack London

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