Bison in the Blue River Valley
Bison have been an integral part of Blue Valley Ranch’s landscape since 1996, and they have become iconic to the ranch’s identity as well as an important part of its agricultural production program. The turn-out of the ranch’s 120 head of bison onto summer pastures every spring is a much-anticipated event, and is as close as we can get to the thundering hooves that inspired so many western films featuring the Great Plains of America’s Midwest.
Bison are truly magnificent animals. They are the largest terrestrial mammal in North America, and males can weigh up to 2,000 lbs, although this bull isn’t quite that big. They are also extremely athletic, able to reach speeds of up to 35 mph and jump well over 6 feet. That prominent hump on their back primarily exists to balance the large, swinging head, but it also allows bison to make very quick turns, pivoting on their front legs.
While there are many similarities between bison and cattle, bison ecology and behavior is quite different from its bovine cousins. Bison are constantly on the move, grazing as they walk, and are rarely found in the same location for long, even at water sources. While they are dangerous animals if mis-handled, they are also quite intelligent and often curious, as this calf demonstrated when he decided to get a closer look at our camera.
Bison have also been present in the Blue River Valley for far longer than cattle. The bison skull above was unearthed along the Blue River 15 years ago, and is currently on display in the ranch’s office. An analysis using accelerator mass spectrometry revealed its age at around 175 years old, placing bison in Middle Park long before European settlement.
Bison will continue to be a part of the ranch’s ag program, as bison production has been a critical part of the animals’ recovery from near extinction in the early 20th century. Bison production also has other health and ecological benefits, which are important to Blue Valley’s mission of sustainable production of quality animals for market. Overall, they are a perfect fit with the ranch’s vision of land stewardship and maintaining its western heritage.
As a bonus, they also make great trespass enforcers.