Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where the buffalo roam

Our tiny plot of land is essentially a square. It was once part of the playground of an old school. After the school was closed (in the late 50s), the land was divided into three lots. The lot we have is the middle one. The one to our north is our neighbors' lot where they have a house similiar in age and style to ours. The lot to our south is about half the size of ours and still houses the original school house. We are bounded on one side by the road on which we live. The last side (the back) is backed up against a much larger plot of land. This land actually surrounds all of the land that originally belonged to the school house. The owners of this land use it to house a herd of buffalo (American Bison, to be exact).

The first time we saw the bison, they freaked out our goats. Now our dogs continue to bark at them in the early morning, but somehow learn to live with them as the day wears on. My H has taken up feeding them apples. He will fill a plastic bin with the windfall apples and toss them to whichever bison feel brave enough to approach.

There was always one bison who kept apart from the rest of the herd. It was a big one, and clearly had been around for awhile. This bison had an injured leg (slight limp) and horns that looked like they'd seen some fighting. We made the assumption that this was an older male bison who was no longer (or maybe never was) the dominant one of the herd. It was a bit thinner than many of it's herdmates, but we figured that was due to age. This bison had a strong affection for apples and would come right up to my husband to get them. Eventually, it got to the point where it would take them from his hand. Last weekend, it took one from my hand! We even got to see this bison nose to nose with one of our dogs - with no aggression or fear from either party.

This particular bison got used to hanging around. On Sunday, it brought a friend with it on it's visit. H fed them both apples but the 'friend' was obviously wary. He dumped a pile of apples there so that they could eat them while we contintued with the apple picking. Next thing we know, our dogs are barking like crazy. A truck had pulled up to the fence (from the buffalo field). It was the owner of the herd and he came looking for this lone bison. He was wondering why she kept hanging around down here and he needed her up at the main barn. Yes, you read that right...this huge bison is a SHE! And apparently, her companion was following her around because he thought she was 'available'. Our neighbor 'herded' the bison across the field and over the hill with his truck.

About 20 minutes later, he came back. He wanted to appologize for being short and to introduce himself. We all chatted for about an hour. He apparently lives down the road a ways, but owns the land that surrounds us. He uses the original barn on the property, but the tiny house remains vacant. He sells his bison meat through a CSA - so we got his card and we hope to sign up for a share next year. The reason he came looking for that bison and had to get her up at the barn? She was due for slaughtering on Monday. Turns out that she was more than 23 years old and was having a hard time keeping on the weight. She'd lived a full life and he felt it was time for a culling before she froze to death this winter or something. We were feeling a bit guilty for feeding apples to someone else's buffalo, but after hearing that, I was glad that we did. She deserved to spend her last day in the warm sun enjoying an endless supply of apples!

On Tuesday morning while I was milking the goats, I saw the bison heard come running over the hill and into the field behind us again. It was a smaller herd...but such is the circle of life.

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