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Bison Preparing For 53rd Annual Buffalo Roundup

Chynna Lockett

This weekend, about sixty cowboys will herd thousands of bison to Custer State Park’s corrals. The Buffalo Roundup draws spectators from all over the country. But the bison earn the big bucks.


The smell of sage and buffalo dung wafts through the air. Bison snort as park staff drive trucks over small yellow hills, following dirt tire tracks in the dry brush. A group of the animals drinking from a creek ignore the vehicle for a few minutes before moving down the water bed. These bison are used to people pulling over to gawk. 


“Somebody can sit on the loop road and they’ll stand there in the road. I swear half the time it’s just to see how long somebody will wait for them.” 


Mark Hendrix is the Natural Resource Program Manager at Custer State Park. He says there are about 14 hundred bison. 

Credit Chynna Lockett


“The bulls have a lot bigger bases to their horns and they’re a lot longer. You know an older cow can have really long horns but they’re going to be skinny.” 


They can weigh more than two thousand pounds, but they’re fast runners.


“Up to to 35 miles an hour. I mean they jump six feet fence just from flat footed. So they’re very agile even though they look nice and docile out here on the prairie.” 


This weekend, about sixty cowboys will herd them into corrals for sorting. Some will be kept at the park and bred. Others get sold to buyers--sometimes for ranching. 


“Custer State Park has sold a lot of bison and provided a lot of genetics to bison producers all over the United States and into Canada.” 


Hendrix says the park has a great reputation for breeding healthy animals. Auctions make up about 20 percent of the park’s annual income. That revenue helps sustain the park and breeding efforts. 


Calves as tall as human toddlers follow the herd. Hendrix says they’re hoping to see plenty more of them this year. 


Credit Chynna Lockett

“We’re hoping when we get done working them this year we should have about 550 pregnant females to have 550 calves.” 


He says that would be the most births in nearly 15 years, and that’s a sign of a successful program.