November is a very interesting month for Southern bison habitats and operations. The definite and oppressive announcement of winter upon the landscape changes everything forever: once again. It is during this time of year that we humans, be-we: ranchers, park superintendents, consumers, lawmakers or bison stewardship-collectives and consortiums, also change things for bison forever: once again. If this sounds a bit extreme, the intent is for attention to decision-making – devoid of do-over’s or resets.
One such decision that can be drastically different in the southern plains is the culling of mature brood cows. Sometimes they simply have to be culled, thereby replacing the bear and the wolf within a natural order now 21st Century sensitive and elementally modern. I’m ok with that, so long as I have considered all possible reasons why the culls have gone un-productive and factored in all solutions such as betting on their recovery as breeders vs. the cost of replacing them. I’ve heard it said: that once a cow starts skipping, they tend to stay open. I strongly disagree and can prove it. In the south, I have experienced a recurring condition in mature cows that is a complex syndrome brought on by compiled and sustained internal parasite loads. The dangers of allowing this syndrome include: building a resistance within parasite populations to medical solutions, as well as GI-tract dysfunction resulting in nutrient absorption issues and females less likely to come into productive estrus. The bear and wolf in me, would much rather just cull them and take them down. The 21st Century bison-steward/ [whatever], is expected to take responsibility for their productivity and go to the calculator because: [if] she has been a good cow until now – it’s cheaper to keep’er!
Sometimes the decision to cull has to be made, but comes with the burden of responsibility to many things. As bison stewards our situation is different than cattle, but the same with regard to sustainability of a habitat for one more bison herd on the American landscape. The contribution of both historic genetics and the ecological-restoration of the species, that each and every herd represents, can cause us to [hit pause] on the bear and the wolf just long enough to check our logic and consider multiple solutions. In the southern plains, November is a bit too soon to cull because we may still be calving and breeding into December. For many reasons, I personally prefer to preg-check and make decisions no sooner than mid January.
The bear and wolf are healthy moving parts of a bison herd and equally healthy parts of a management mind-set. The caveat is: the metaphoric-predation not being caused by accidental mismanagement of a herd. Culling is healthy, but it should be considered carefully with due diligence to your herd, your mission and your land because – it does change everything forever.
By Tim Frasier