I helped out with a roundup of the west herd at our Niobrara Valley Preserve this week. This year’s roundup took longer than usual because we missed last year’s scheduled roundup because a washed-out bridge cut off truck access to the corrals. The bridge was finally rebuilt late this summer, but missing a year meant we had a much larger herd to work through than we normally do. (The biggest reason we hold annual roundups is to manage the size of the herd.)
Bison roundups are much quieter than similar events with cattle. Part of that is because the bison, themselves, are quiet. Their soft grunts are much different than the loud bawls of cattle that dominate the atmosphere when they’re being worked. The other reason bison roundups are quiet, though, is that we take extra measures to avoid stressing the animals. There’s very little shouting, banging, or other noises, making the event almost eerily hushed. We work the bison as quickly as possible, trying to minimize the time they spend in the corrals.
I’ve been helping with these roundups for almost 25 years now. Over that time, I’ve really grown to appreciate and admire the coordination and communication it takes to make the entire process run smoothly. There are always hitches, of course, because we’re dealing with animals that can be unpredictable and don’t always go the direction we’d like them to. For the most part, however, it’s a really clean and efficient operation.
I don’t claim to know the mind of a bison, but they certainly seem to settle quickly back into prairie life once the roundup is completed. I took the above video with a drone, keeping enough distance to avoid drawing attention from the animals. Given their slow ambling and grazing behavior, you’d never know they were packed together in a corral just a few hours prior. Soon, they’ll be released from the trap pasture that surrounds the corral and will spend the winter and all of next growing season in the hills of their regular pasture (about 16 square miles in size). They’ll have very little human contact before we get to see them up close and personal again next fall.