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.
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.
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.
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. Before long, however, he took over a sliding gate.
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.
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.
Here, Eric is hiding behind a gate while bison move past.
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. 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.