Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bison Roundup

This is a bison.  He is basically a cow, only bigger, much faster, leaner, and tougher.  He can outrun a horse and can jump a 4 foot fence.
In the middle of the Great Salt Lake, there is a state park called Antelope Island.  I have done a lot of photography out there over the years.  One of the interesting aspects of the island is that they keep a wandering herd of bison. The island is about 12 miles long and a few miles wide, so there is a good bit of space.
You can see the bison in the distance, but the clue they were missing is this horse with a saddle on it.
OK, the more obvious clue is the dozens or even hundreds of horse trailers, horses and cowboys.
It is the annual Antelope Island Bison Roundup. The island can maintain a healthy herd of about 500 animals, but with no natural predators, their numbers swell most years.  They are all rounded up, checked for health, given some vaccinations, and then some number are auctioned off.
Some of those auctioned off become meat.  Others become breeding stock.  Some are used as trainers for cutting horses.  Apparently Bison are much more challenging to herd than cows.
The riders start at the south end of the island and start moving the animals along, picking up groups as they go.  Once they get moving, the idea is to keep them moving so they don't stop and ponder their alternatives.
To be a participant, you need to bring your own horse and pay something like $50.  People come from all over to participate.  I guess there just aren't many chances to round up bison.

This offers an interesting perspective.  The long line of dots is the bison being driven along near the base of the mountain.

You have to double-click on this one to see all the detail.  The bison are on the hill, but so are lots and lots of cowboys.  There was clearly a surplus. They pushed them up this hill. When they got them to the top, they let the animals rest for about an hour so they wouldn't be too stressed for the last 30 minute push.
These riders were part of the surplus.  They seemed quite content just following along, chatting up a storm.
The cowboys now have most of the island cleared and the animals gathered to go into the large pens.  This was the first time I saw the bison start turning around and trying to head the other direction.  I think it was finally dawning on them that this was not a good thing.
Credit where credit is due.  This large bull decided there was no way in hell he was going to follow all his friends into that fenced in trap.  He just stopped.  Period.  The best guidance I heard the entire day was "You can herd a bison anywhere the bison wants to go."   They apparently avoid trying to force these big bulls to go in.  They get very angry, can hurt riders and can kill bison calves.  This one got to spend the night outside the pens.
We were there on Friday, which is the day to go if you want to see much. Saturday is left to go find and corral the remaining 5% that were off exploring on their own.

If you haven't seen this before, it is definitely worth a trip.  The only cost is the standard admission into the state park and it is very easy to get around and watch the events.  The real herding started around 9:00.  We got there by 8:00 because we weren't sure where to be or how things would proceed.  If you go, just be there in time to get to the Fielding Garr Ranch at the far end of the island by about 8:45.  That's where all the action starts and there are lots of people who can tell you where to be, and perhaps more importantly, where not to be.  Bring lunch and drinks.  The concession stand is closed for the year.

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