My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Roundup at National Bison Range

I'm still excited about getting to help with the Annual Bison Roundup.  It took me two years to experience it, because the government shutdown postponed it last year past my time to work at the National Bison Range. Two days of working 11 hours and 12 hours went by in a flash.

Now I'm ready to share it with you.  (But first get comfortable and get a cup of your favorite drink - this will take a while.)

The Roundup started up with a prayer offered by one of the leaders of the Salish tribe, followed by a song honoring the bison. 

Singers singing a song to honor the bison

When you watch our old movie of how the Bison Range is managed, you see cowboys on horses racing down a hill in a cloud of dust behind a thundering herd of bison.  Today we have found that using a vehicle to bring the bison from a holding pasture to the corrals puts a lot less stress on the bison and also protects the people from the kind of injuries they often got when on horses.

A small group of bison being herded with a jeep to the corral pen

After a small group of bison are brought into the corral, they are moved down through gates so they (usually) enter singly into a round enclosure where they are given a visual health check.

The round pen where the bison are checked visually for health before
being sent to the scale and having their microchip read

Then they are moved onto a scale built into the floor of the chute. Someone writes down the health check results and the weight, then a worker uses a wand to read the microchip in the animal's ear. This chip information is in a database so, the workers know whether this is a animal that is going to be sold, needs to be checked for disease, or will just go back on the range. (Which is true of most of the bison -  they are allowed to run down a chute to the holding pasture for animals that have been processed, with no further work done on them.)

Karen is recording all the data on the animal while Laura is writing down the health report -
they can read the weight off the scale from where they sit

The calves don't  yet have chips and have to get a complete workup which consists of giving a hair sample, a blood sample, getting a microchip and an ear tag.  Four drops of blood are put on special blotting paper after filling two tubes.  This is used to determine the calves' genetic markers. They are shunted into their own small squeeze chute. My afternoon job was to open a gate that shunted them into the chute, then close it again so the bison not needing any processing could run out to the field. 

Here is what is looks like when a calf gets into the squeeze chute. (Sorry - could not get my video to load to Blogger.)

Putting in a microchip behind a calf's ear. Guy on far side is pulling ear while Shay is injecting the chip at the base of the ear. 

Putting an ear tag on a calf 

A section of the chute can be opened to reach the tail - Shay has forceps ready to pull some hair

She grabs several hairs, rolls them around the forceps, pulls and then
puts them in a labeled plastic bag - we have a tiny printer that prints out the barcode for each animal

Kelsey is loading the microchips into the disk the machine uses 

Calves' blood samples with barcode labels that will be used for genetic profile

The same workup is done on the bison that are sold in closed bids, as well as to any bison who have lost their chips.  (The genetics workup will be matched with workups from years past to match the unique genetic pattern that represents the now unknown bison.  Thus the data associated with the old chip now will be associated with the new chip.)

Amy drawing a blood sample

 When the chip is read at the bison squeeze chute, it tells us which of several numbered pens we are to send the bison to. It also tells us what to do to the bison.  This included adding an ear tag for bison that were being sold, and taking blood. We also took about 30 nose swabs, to make sure our herd didn't have mycoplasma (Mycoplasma bovis) which recently has become a major concern on bison ranches with losses of 25% or more of the infected animals. And we also get labels printed with the chip number to put on hair bags, blood and swab samples.

I numbered these tags - they are glued to the animal and left on the ones that are being sold but are taken off after the animal has had further processing but will go back on the range

My morning job was to get blood from the syringe into two vacuum tubes, the swab into a preservation fluid in a test tube, and get the labels on everything.

This is NOT a Q-tip I'd like up my nose - testing for mycoplasma

While all this is going on, we are also giving an educational program to a series of busloads of kids from the surrounding schools.  Monday I helped with that and was the person who greeted the busses and explained what the kids would be doing, then escorted them to a movie about the roundup.  The other half of the day, I worked in the kids activity section where they could play a matching game by picking up the name of an animal, then finding a picture, a physical object, such as a pelt, or antler, the picture of the track made by the animal, and a factoid about it.  When they found all their matches, they brought them to me for review.  Then I would send them to scatter the cards and objects back around on the tarp.

We also had the bones from a bison so the kids could lay them out to see how the skeleton fit together.  Our bison had had the side of its face broken and then had healed up from this injury.  The bones were mostly numbered and there was a key provided, so the kids could figure out how the bones fit together and compare the bison's bones with their own.

Rebuilding a bison skeleton

One last interesting thing I learned today is that our herd of bison have some unique genes - ones that ONLY occur in our herd.  Those are part of the rare genes, that if we find them in individual, we keep it on the refuge to preserve genetic diversity.  We have no idea of what physical properties these genes are responsible for, but they may help our bison survive in a changing world.