BISON ARE NATURAL GRAZERS THAT HAVE LONG BEEN A PART OF THE LANDSCAPE IN MIDDLE PARK.
Blue Valley Ranch first began its bison program in 1996 with breeding stock from KenMar Bison of New Rockford, North Dakota. By raising its own replacement heifers and purchasing bulls from reputable sources, the program continually strives to maintain pure bison genetics. Blue Valley’s breeding and herd health program produces calves with high survivability, moderate weights, desirable carcass traits and conformation traits. Cows are bred to begin calving in April, and the herd production cycle is similar to a typical cattle cow-calf operation.
Like cattle, bison are generalist grazers, meaning that they primarily consume grass forages. Unlike cattle, bison typically have lower basal metabolic rates, which mean that they do not require the same amounts of feed as cattle. Unfortunately, this also means that they are more difficult to feed out. However, bison meat contains less cholesterol than other red meats, and so provides a healthy red meat alternative for consumers.
BISON CAN BE USED AS A GRAZING MANAGEMENT TOOL, MUCH LIKE CATTLE, BUT MUST BE MANAGED DIFFERENTLY.
They are very gregarious animals, meaning that they tend to travel in tight herds, and they are very mobile, covering a lot of country in a short amount of time. Employees on Blue Valley have observed the ranch’s herd on one end of the ranch in the morning, and on the opposite end that very same evening, six miles away! Bison movements and grazing distribution can be challenging to control, although herding can be effective, especially if animals are conditioned at an early age to the presence of vehicles or horses.
Bison have been a part of the landscape in Middle Park for a long time, though to what extent is still debated. The oldest bison remains found in Middle Park were of the species Bison antiquos, found at a Paleo kill site and dating to around 12,500 YBP. A bison skull found on Blue Valley Ranch in sediments along the Blue River in the late 1990s was sent for analysis by accelerated mass spectrometry. The skull was found to be 175 years old, which means that it predates most European presence in Middle Park, and that it was a member of the same species (Bison bison) that Blue Valley raises on the ranch today. There is still dispute as to whether bison in pre-settlement Middle Park were actually woods bison (which were a more solitary, shy, sub-species and may have been permanent residents) or whether they were migrating plains bison following nutritious forage up the river corridors.