Photo by Andre Laird.
Originally published April 23, 2009
One of the last things anyone would associate with Huntington County is bison.
However, Huntington resident Blaine Kaylor is now the owner of a small herd of the unusual - for these parts, anyway - animal.
The decision to start raising bison, more commonly known as buffalo, came after a lot of research.
"Four years ago, I decided that I wanted to build a barn to raise beef cattle," Kaylor states. "I started building the barn and began to research bison."
Kaylor adds that his research revealed that bison were more durable than cattle and there was less work involved in maintaining them.
"They also have better meat, about three to four more times protein than beef," he says.
Kaylor says he assembled a small herd of six cows and four yearlings, just to get started.
There are two species of bison, woods and plains.
Woods bison were thought to be extinct until a herd of 200 was discovered in Alberta, Canada, in 1962. Even though their numbers are up, they are still on the endangered species list.
Plains bison are the more common form, often seen in photographs or video footage roaming the wide-open plains across North America.
Kaylor's herd is part woods bison and part plains bison. The parent bull was of the woods species and the cow was a plains bison.
"I purchased my herd from Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve, on the Indiana-Michigan border," he states. "They are originally from Custard State Park, in Wisconsin. Wild Winds is run by a couple and the husband is a 70-year-old full-blooded Native American Indian."
Kaylor says he was on a four-month waiting list to purchase his herd, which delayed their arrival until mid-February of this year.
He adds that even though he had a large fenced-in area, he was still worried about how the herd would react when released onto his property.
"I didn't know if they would just charge ahead and keep going past the property line, so the couple agreed to transport the herd to Huntington and help me with getting them situated," Kaylor says. "The husband had a whole ritual, which dated back to his ancestors and how they treated buffalo."
Kaylors says sage was burned and the smoke was used to calm the animals because they had not been sedated for the trip. Additionally, they released six of the herd first and then the remaining five.
One interesting thing that happened while the herd was being released was the arrival of a bald eagle.
"After we released the herd, the buffalo started running toward the property line on the other side away from us," Kaylor says. "A bald eagle flew down about 10 feet from the herd and chirped overhead as it shadowed the herd."
He adds that both the bison and bald eagle are revered among Native American culture and that, according to the culture, both symbols appearing together was a sign of good luck.
"It was very cool to experience that," he says.
Maintenance of the herd is very low, Kaylor adds.
On a typical day, he says he feeds and waters the herd in the morning and evening. The average bison eats approximately two percent of its body weight each day. During the winter their metabolism decreases, which results in the animal needing less to eat.
"There is not much else to do really," he states. "We try to clean the pasture at least once each week."
Kaylor adds that unlike regular cattle, he doesn't have to make special provisions for the herd during the winter.
"I don't have to keep them enclosed in a barn or lean-to," he says. "Even with minus-10 degree weather, with a wind chill of minus-30, the herd is still fine outside. They are built to withstand extreme temperatures."
Kaylor adds is that the colder the temperature in which a bison lives, the larger it grows to be.
"An average bull can be anywhere from 2,500 to 2,800 pounds, while a female can range from 1,100 to 1,500 pounds," he states. "When the calves are born, they can be 30-40 pounds."
Kaylor states that his long-term goal includes increasing the size of the herd.
"We have plans to fence in some more of the property and increase the herd to about 30," he says. "The females have a gestation period similar to a cow's, of nine and a half months. They go back into heat about two months after they give birth."
Kaylor says there are females within his herd who are about to give birth any day.
"Another thing we hope to do is offer tours to anyone interested, including schools," he adds.
"Our plans also include selling the bison meat and hides," Kaylor says. "Everything on the animal can be used. The Native Americans used the hides for teepees and bones for weapons and tools."
When asked about people's reaction to the bison, Kaylor states that most people don't believe it until they see the herd.
"My daughter's friends still think her Facebook pictures are from a vacation," he says. "On the weekends, it's not uncommon to see 15 cars parked along the side of the road checking the herd out."
Kaylor's wife Teresa says she was unsure about the prospect of raising bison at first, but changed her mind later.
"At first I thought he was nuts to want to do that," she states. "But then I saw that he really did a lot of research on the subject and educated himself on what it takes to properly care for them. And now, it's actually very calming to watch the herd as they interact with each other."
Bison, Kaylor says, are playful animals and spend a lot of time playing games, especially one similar to tag.
"They are interesting animals and part of this country's history," he adds. "I like having them."