Care and Health



1) PROCUREMENT; December thru March is the best time of year to buy healthy weaned buffalo calves from reputable producers. They have been on their mother long enough to have a good start.

a) Getting them this time of year allows for settling in and getting them trained before the heat sets in.

b) Training calves in the heat can result in them souring faster and having more health problems.

c) Light yearling bison are my preference for people who need fresh animals before December.

d) Any calves purchased after may will probably not work out as well as calves purchased between December and March.

e) If you get caught breaking a set of calves during the heat, take extra steps where animal health and welfare are concerned.


Care and Health

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2) WORM CALVES AT THE END OF THE MONTH.  (Please see Bison Parasitology page)

a) This is a good time to use Fenbenazole or safe guard. Nematidiris, a worm that bison are known to carry heavy populations of is usually shedding in the month of February and will be most vulnerable to the active ingredient of Fenbenazole.

b) It is always best to use drugs for treatment that are labeled for bovidae.





a) I recommend calling them in about the same time every day and simply closing the gate on them the days you want to work them.
b) I recommend calling them in and feeding them and not closing the gate on the days you don’t work them.


a) The lead animal and some of the others that were the best in the beginning may begin to slow down.
b) They are not getting sour they are just getting ready to work out of the herd.
c) Go to your less willing and more fractious calves at this point and don’t over work your favorite buffalo.
d) This may be the point to play around with breaking down your subordinates or less trainable calves while the weather is still descent.


a) This is when they usually become more cooperative working out of the herd.

b) The trick is to keep settling them now and then thru the whole process.

c) You may go back to working them as singles now and then before they become consistent out of the herd.

d) Be handy and don’t get out smarted or buffaloed by your calves. Read what you see and work with them.

e) Now is a good time to start changing things up on them a lot. In and out gates, arenas, and whatever change up’s that are available at your facility.



a) It is now time to consider how heat stress is affecting your young buffalo

b) You may see bags under their eyes indicating exhaustion from the days work before and electrolyte depletion.

c) It is very important to make sure they are allowed to drink and cool them selves between works if your working singles and every two or three horses if working out of the herd.

d) Don’t work them every day if they show signs of fatigue

e) I recommend adding electrolytes to their feed and maybe a small amount of alfalfa to their daily ration. For example, one flake from a small square bale for every two buffalo.

f) They will need time occasionally to recover physically from the heat. If you don’t allow them to recover their attitude may become bad about being worked and they may quit all together.

g) Panting may be observed even when they are not being worked. If they pant hard for a count of twenty they may be on the verge of overheating.




a) This is a good time to run them in the chute and give them a healthy dose of injectable wormer

b) I recommend Ivomec-Plus at a dose and a half.

c) Worming now, will prevent their immune system from being compromised and help them maintain a steady rate of weight gain.

d) I personally do not recommend pour-on wormers. Though labeled and designed for cattle, bison, which are also of the Bovidae family, have a different hide than cattle. They have more hair follicles per square inch and the leather has different properties than leather from cattle, leading me to suspect that it may work differently on bison. The injectable works very well for me on my buffalo.



a) You can sour buffalo for good in August that would normally return to full usefulness in the fall when the weather improves

b) Continue addressing heat stress with nutrition and rest.

c) Your buffalo will be as good to you as you are to them.


a) July thru September is when your less trainable buffalo will begin to shine. You will be rewarded now for not forcing them to become usable earlier in the process.

b) Buying the correct number of buffalo will also pay off now.


a) This is a true statement, PROVIDED, the buffalo are trained and the arena is well lit. Shadows will distract or confuse them just like horses.



a) Your favorite buffalo will now be opposite of when you started. The calves that were the best to train will frustrate you or may not work at all and the less trainable calves will be working well.

b) This will be true IF, you did not force yourself on the less trainable calves in the beginning.

c) Adapt to the reversal of your herd focusing on the buffalo that want to work, and use the buffalo that used to be your first string as the second string.

d) You will find the calves that used to be your favorites will be useful for certain drills and as the weather cools will come back to full usefulness. This will be true if you have not forced them to work passed their willingness to.

e) Turn back help out of the herd will be effective on your slower buffalo and not considered forcing them IF, you do not over work them.

f) Stay away from using dogs as turn back help. This can be done on a bet or to prove that you can, BUT, dogs are a natural predator and may cause your buffalo to become defensive.

g) If you like your dogs I recommend not using them on bison. Bison are equipped to kill predators.

a) Sometime in October you will get your first string or favorite buffalo back.

b) I have hauled herds that I have trained to friends arena’s and put on colt works with them. This will work well if you let them check out the arena on their own and settle them properly.

c) Now is a good time to contact your buffalo supplier and get a feel for the market and timing for your replacement bison calves.

(NOVEMBER) ………………………



1) DO NOT haul them home on the same trailers with horses.

2) Give them two to three weeks to settle in to their new surroundings

a) During this time get them started on feed

b) The best available rations are formulated for horses

c) Let them become familiar with the arena when it is not in use

d) It’s best to keep them in a pen adjacent to the arena for 60 to 90 days

e) Use alfalfa as a treat to lure them to the center of the arena on their own

f) Free access to good quality grass hay should be available

g) You may lope around the calves during the their introductory period

h) Don’t attempt to work horses on your calves during the introductory period

i) They are ready for training when you observe them playing with each other and a minimum of two weeks’ time has passed.

j) If during the introductory period one or two are not eating the supplemental ration, add feeders to the pen in different places and they will all be eating within three to four days.

k) When the calves appear relaxed, are eating well, appear comfortable in their new routine, and are observed being playful, they are ready to train.
3) Attempt to ride directly through the center of the calves after loping around them

a) Their reaction to this will be to run around you or wrap around you

b) Your proper reaction to that behavior is to back away from them quickly

c) Go back to loping around them and repeat the attempt to split them quietly and smoothly.

d) This may take three to ten attempts before they show you a crease in the herd

e) When they show you the crease slip though it smoothly and quietly and repeat.

f) Stop training your calves for the day and let them sleep on that lesson

4) Settle, by continued loping around and splitting of the herd

a) It’s important to repeat the previous day to judge the calves retained response to the same situation

b) If the calves remember their lesson from the day be for, start splitting them north to south and east to west. When this becomes easy to accomplish, stop in the middle and the calves should fan.

c) Stop training your calves and let them sleep on it.
5) ONE- ON- ONE, let the calves in the arena one at a time and let them visually find your horse

a) When the calves appear to make visual contact, nose up and ears forward, let them out of the arena

b) DO NOT, chase them out of the arena

c) DO NOT step to them and work them during this lesson

d) After you do this step with each individual calf, stop training them and let them sleep on it.
6) Lope around your calves before you begin working them every day for a while

a) The day after the one-on-one lesson most of them will be ready to step to and work

b) DO NOT get hung up on two or three calves that do not work as good as the others, just touch on them lightly and in time they will be your best calves.

c) If the calves seem to be more frantic than usual, end the day by settling them. This will pay off the next day.

d) The bison calves will be as good to you as you are to them.

1) FEAR, remember, these are wild animals that have not been selected for domestication and whose behaviors are hardwired for survival.

a) Nose up, tail clamped tightly to their butt and often quivering.

b) They will be very willing to flee

c) When they move as a group they will remain tightly together or in a tight group while in motion.

d) They will appear explosive when they respond to a handler

e) In the presence of a handler they may stand in a tight group

f) They will get over their fear if nothing bad happens to them

g) Bison are a wild prey animal, so the objective here is to prove to them that you are not a predator.
2) DEFENSE, it is very easy to trigger aggression in bison if the defensive posture is missed.

a) Nose down, tail slightly up or out at the tail head from their butt.

b) Unwillingness to move, turn broadside or away from you. The defensive calves will often but not always maintain eye contact with you with their nose slightly or sharply dropped.

c) This behavior will be exhibited when the calves are rushed in the training process or handled to rough.

d) This behavior is a natural response to predation. If escape is not an option they will defend themselves as if you or your horse is a predator.

e) The use or presence of dogs will result in defensive behavior even from afar. Dogs are a natural predator of bison and their response to them is hardwired.
3) AGGRESSION, this is the hardwired behavior when flight and or defense is not an option.

a) Nose down, head down, neck arched, tail up and flagged or strait

b) They will often make a sound like compressed air release

c) ALL aggressive bison calves are man made

d) When we miss the signs of fear and defense we leave them with only one option, which is to fight for their life.

e) If this happens it is best dealt with by making available to them an escape option from the area or behavioral trigger.


g) The presence or use of dogs on fresh bison calves in training will result in a higher incident of aggressive behavior. Dogs are a natural predator of bison and their response to them is hardwired. If you want to protect your investment in bison calves and their useful life on horses, lock your damned dogs up for awhile.

h) Aggression in bison calves may also be the result of too much or rough handling before you get them, buy your bison from a reputable source.

i) I much prefer ranch direct calves for this reason, but from a good ranch that handles their bison with care.

j) Bison are not naturally aggressive unless they are defending or protecting something.

k) If you end up with aggressive calves the behavior is 50% reversible at best. The only hope you have is to analyze what mistake was made in training them, change that and don’t allow it to repeat. Whether the mistake was made on the purchase or training program a mistake was made and quite possibly not obvious at a glance.


1) THE FAMILY GROUP. Bison calves will develop behavioral structure within their group even in small numbers. A large number of bison producers have come to know this as a family group.

2) THE PERFECT NUMBER. The number of bison required for a horse training program is 1 to 11/2 bison calves per horse in training with no less than five in any case. This will assure you 1 to 2 years of use out of your calves.

3) FAMILY GROUP MEMBERS. Lead, subordinate, guards (renegades), and the body of the herd.

4) LEAD ANIMAL. In every set of calves a lead animal will become evident.

a) The lead animal will relax and make more trainable the rest of the calves, or become the baby sitter.

b) This animal will be the first to go through gates, come into the arena, eat, and work well for the horses.

c) It may also be the first animal to exhibit negative behavior if it feels the need to protect the other calves from you or your horse.

d) It may but will not always be the largest animal in the herd.

e) This will be the one that works down and become less useful before the others. Removal of the lead will be disruptive to the other calves and counterproductive for you.

5) SUBORDINATE. There may be one or two of these in every set

a) These animals are the most fearful, the most dangerous to themselves, and will be your best calves toward the end of the time you keep and use a set.They will be the last through the gate, the last to eat, and the last to become usable for the horse program.

c) They will also be the calves that are working for you when the others slow down. This will only hold true if you do not rush them into being useful.

d) They will always be the weaker or smaller calves in the bunch, and will not be allowed to eat properly by the other animals if extra feeding space is not made available.

e) They have the least tolerance to pressure and will be the calves that show physical signs of stress and sickness if their needs and behaviors are not accommodated.

f) If you keep a large number of calves, it will help to sort off the subordinates only if it will consist of five or more so that they can develop their own functional family group. A one or two head sort will only maintain a high level of stress as they rely on the others for guidance and comfort.

g) You have to be the best hand with the subordinates and every set or family group has them.

6) GUARDS, also known as renegades, piss heads, #*!**#, etc.

a) These animals will not necessarily be in every group of bison calves you get. In my experience it depends on the herd they come from.

b) For years I referred to them as renegades among other colorful names but was taught to see them as guards and now understand that they play an important role in the dynamics of a family group.

c) The role of the guard is to remain weary and on the lookout for predators or any threat to the herd.

d) They will be the ones that while you’re settling the herd will run out of the herd or toward you and shake their head aggressively, but usually with their nose up indicating more of a fearful bluff.

e) The correct response is to ignore them for awhile. If the behavior continues over a period of a week then just run them back into the herd, and continue to ignore them.

f) DO NOT focus on them and give them a reason to perceive you or your horse as a threat that they were correctly addressing as a predatory threat to the herd.

g) They will be less likely in the beginning to eat well because it is their job to watch out for the others at feeding time.

h) It is also their job to draw a predator away from the herd, or with other guards approach a predatory threat and stand them off.

i) DO NOT take this animal out of the group as another may replace it .

j) Dealing with guards is not difficult, it just takes an understanding of that behavior that you now have.

k) REMEMBER, these are wild animals with hardwired survival instincts that are between 10 and 100, years old. You are not going to change them. You have to learn to work with them.

7) THE BODY. I call the remainder of the calves in a set the body of the herd because when moving large groups of bison they tighten up and move like one animal with the leads in the front and the subordinates and guards in the rear.

a) The animals that constitute the body of the herd require the least attention and experience or knowledge

b) They are the individuals that seem to train in an average manner with the least distraction to the program.

c) If you do not leave the others in place, it is likely that one of the animals in the body will assume the responsibilities and position of any leads, subordinates, or guards that are taken out. This is not always true but I have seen it happen more often than not.

d) The body animals will be the most useful to the horse program if the lead animal is left in place.

e) When deciding how many calves to buy, figure your numbers plus two to allow for leads and guards.

f) The body will also gain more weight if allowed the presence of a lead animal and in some cases a guard.

g) When observing your bison calves and formulating programs tailored to your operation just remember, they are a wild species that is dead set on survival, and it’s a group or herd effort for them. The best results are a product of making your program fit the behaviors they have rather than changing their behavior to suit your program. You will be paid back for this effort at a rate of between 500 and 1000 works to one compared to cattle.
8) FEEDS AND FEEDING; This information is a combination of trial and error, input from proficient bison ranchers, research PhD’s, practicing nutritionists, veterinarians, and finally what my bison calves tell me works while in use as training aids.

a) Rations. A ration refers to the complete food intake and it’s nutritional value within a twenty-four hour period.

b) Hay; the hay should be good to excellent quality grass hay ranging as high as 15% crude protein.

c) Hay that exceeds 15% protein may cause problems after an extended period of 150 days or so.

d) Hay that is less than 10% may also cause problems in an extended period but can be accommodated by a supplemental feeding of protein in the whatever form the bison are willing to eat.

e) Diarrhea can be an indicator that protein levels in the ration are too high. An irritated attitude and uncomfortable or agitated demeanor are also indications that protein levels are too high.

f) Poor quality hay may result in poor weight gain, depression, reduced performance in front of horses, and a higher incidence of health problems and death loss.

g) The result on your calves of hay that is too rich can look the same as the result of hay that is not good enough.

h) The best receiving hay for new calves is second or third cutting horse quality hay. Remember, many times we get bison calves at below 400 pounds of body weight. At this weight they are considered pre-ruminant and need highly digestible forms of roughage.

i) Receiving new calves successfully is a matter of getting their bellies full and keeping them that way.

j) Your new calves may very likely be coming from a wild environment. For that reason DO NOT, make it hard or scary for them to fill that belly. Many calves may have never seen a feeder and be hesitant if not frightened of it. Don’t worry about waste in the beginning, just worry about that belly being full.
9) GRAINS & FORMULATIONS; Grain feedings should be between 12 and 20% depending on the feed value of the available roughage.The total ration should be around 15% protein.

a) The most readily available bison formulations are going to be labeled as horse rations and designed to feed at 1 to 11/2 percent of the calves body weight.

b) 400 pound calf = 4 to 6 pounds per head per day of a formulated feed.

c) If fed properly you can be sure that blood levels of micro and macro minerals as well as vitamins are being maintained. This will allow their immune system to work properly, maintain a good attitude, and develop properly.

d)REMEMBER, keeping the calves “fat” is not the goal. You will be paid back at the end of their useful life if you “developed” them properly. Much like your horses they may go through awkward looking stages as they build the frame they need to mature according to their genetics.

e) The purpose of feeding a formulated feed is to be sure of proper vitamin and mineral intake. If a formulation is not available it is possible to achieve the same result by mixing or top dressing, with a correctly formulated mineral yourself. Hair coat health and attitude are your best indicators that your bison are getting what they need.

f) In horse production classes exists a term called,” eye of the horseman” this holds true as well with bison. Watch for indications that they are not,” right” but make changes slowly.

g) One advantage of feeding a supplemental or daily feeding is behavioral. The calves will associate you with feeding and will become very easy to call or pull wherever you want them. This will pay off when you turn them out intentionally or otherwise. Simply use a bucket of feed in combination with sound they recognize from feeding time and close the gate behind them.

h) HORSE FEED OR COW FEED!!!?. In my opinion the answer is horse feed. We are normally offered light bison calves for use on cutting horses. These calves would not have been weaned in a natural state. After a frustrating search for data on bison milk composition I found the only existing chart was it was listed in Canada. Specifically interested in protein to total energy, I was surprised to find that bison milk was almost identical to mares milk.

i) HORSE FEED OR COW FEED?, all of the proficient bison producers with the numbers of animals behind their work to indicate credibility, similarly include high copper, zinc, and selenium with attention paid to bio available trace minerals and in some cases by pass protein, micro bacteria, and enzyme activities. We who are students of equine nutrition on mares, developing foals, and athletes do the same. A well-formulated broodmare and foal formulation will be very close to a correctly formulated bison feed and available at your local feed store.

j) DANGER!!!, make sure you talk to a licensed nutritionist or veterinarian about naturally occurring levels of copper, selenium or any other trace minerals in your area. You may cause toxicity if the forage produced in your area is already high. The brood mare formulations sold in your area should be safe but I recommend checking on it.

k) FAT, modern equine formulations include added fat for sustained energy during performance and symmetrical frame development. There are a large number of horse feeds available that contain 14% protein and 5% fat which is a 2.8 protein to total energy ratio. The known composition data of bison milk reveals a 2.6 protein to total energy ratio. Fed as a supplemental offering in combination with good quality roughage, this program logically parallels the optimum natural feed intake of an eight to ten month old bison calf that is grazing. Horse feed or cow feed?,……hmmmm.

l) For the record and your benefit, fat’s where it’s at in cattle rations if balanced properly, BUT!, cattle formulations that are readily available may not meet the trace mineral requirements of bison calves.

10) SALT & MINERAL; Salt and mineral supplementation is key to immune system functions and proper development of any kind of young growing animal. Salt and minerals have to find their way into the animals to be effective.

a) In my experience, white salt blocks are the only blocks that bison are willing to use hard enough to result in adequate salt intake.

b) Trace mineral salt blocks I have tried in the past do not show enough wear to indicate much use and usually do not contain the levels of trace minerals that bison require.

c) Free choice loose minerals are good to keep out for your bison, BUT, I am still in search of one that they will eat consistently or is formulated for them. Most free choice loose minerals are designed for between 2 and 4 ounces per head per day consumption. If it does not go away at that rate your bison are not getting enough. For this reason I do not rely on free choice loose mineral for sustained blood levels of macro and micro minerals in my bison.

d) In my experience, when a formulation is not available or affordable, you can accomplish intake of free choice mineral by mixing it with dried molasses. The amount or percent of dried molasses will be best determined by the intake observed. I personally begin with a 50-50 mix,( dried molasses/free choice mineral) and increase or decrease the dried molasses according to intake of the free choice mix.

e) I have found that a simple open topped trough feeder works best for free choice mineral.

f) DO NOT; supplement your bison without consulting a professional nutritionist in your area to find out what potential TOXICITIES exist in your area.

1) FENCE, any fence that will hold goats or very small, wild beef calves will hold bison calves.

a) Square mesh wire will work better than straight or barbed wire.

b) The fence does not need to exceed six feet in height.

c) Five to five and a half feet fence works very well.

d) The holding pen should be adjacent to the working arena so that the calves can get their bearings on their own in the arena when it is not in use.

e) Solid or opaque areas on the holding pen fence where ever extra handling pressure may occur is recommended.

f) Good handling techniques and practices are equally as important as good fence.

g) The quieter their environment is at first, the quicker and better they will settle in to their new home.
2) FEEDERS, if you were a buffalo calf would you use them?.

a) Bison calves require three feet per animal feeding space at the feeder.

b) Open top trough feeders work best.

c) Shallow feeders will work better than deep feeders that they have to stick their head down in to eat. This will apply to guards and subordinates more than lead and body animals.

d) Nervousness during feeding will adversely affect intake which will adversely affect health, energy level, and daily gain.

e) I recommend placing the feeders in different areas of the holding pen to assure intake for the subordinate animals.
3) HAY RINGS, if you were a buffalo calf would you use them?.

a) I have found that a hay ring with no top ring results in better immediate intake.

b) If this is not an option, then no ring is better as a receiving measure.

c) If your calves are not eating, figure it out. You own them so you are now a buffalo rancher and your property is at risk.

d) If waste is a big concern, I suggest that death loss should be a bigger concern.

4) WATER SOURCE, if you were a wild baby buffalo would you use it ?.

a) I have found that water sources or tanks are used much better immediately by bison calves if they are placed in the middle of a fence line instead of a corner. Depending on the corner and the calves, this may feel like a trap and they will sip instead of drinking enough to stay healthy.

b) My preference is 100 gallon rubber water tanks.

c) It is better to use a float so that the calves are never required to stick their head down deep in the tank for a drink. The subordinates may choose to go thirsty and become unhealthy.

d) DO NOT, put a water source in a pen and assume the calves are drinking adequately. Watch the flank area of the calves and if it becomes drawn up, figure out why they are not drinking.