SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Thousands will gather Friday morning at Custer State Park to watch the annual buffalo round up of the state park’s herd.

“This year we are planning on a normal visitation level, which is approximately 16,000 to 20,000,” Nick Harrington, the communications manager for South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, said in an email to KELOLAND News. “Last year 20,905 visitors enjoyed a fantastic weekend at Custer State Park.”

This year’s herd is about 1,600 bison. It’s a slightly larger herd than in prior years because more calves were born this spring, Harrington said.

The round up is part of herd management at the park.

The GFP will start examining the herd when the round up ends. The examinations will continue in October. “This includes gathering biological information such as height, weight, pregnancy checks, and fertility checks as well as branding and vaccinating calves. Branding consists of the last digit of the number of the year and an S for state,” Harrington said in the email.

Visitors can visit the corrals and watch the process from the catwalk or stands, he said.

Bulls that stay in the park as breeding stock and replacement bulls are branded with an additional number during the bull survey, he said.

Bison are also vaccinated for brucellosis, tuberculosis, and other industry standards for transporting livestock depending on the receiving state, Harrington said.

About 500 bison will be sold at auction. Many of those sold will go to other ranches, while some are sold for meat as well.

It will take about 60 riders to round up the bison. “…about one-third of the 60 riders returning each year as the core team. This core group features many riders with over 20 years of experience,” Harrington said.

The GFP posted the application and information for prospective riders earlier this year on its website.

While visitors can watch from chairs, the round up riders have more of a challenge.

The round up trail is about five miles. The terrain is steep and often rocky, according to the GFP.

“This can be very strenuous work for riders and horses,” the GFP said on its website. 

Here are other details from the GFP website: horses should be shod, rough country running should be expected, horses will work in close proximity to buffalo and must be able to react quickly, stream crossings may be encountered, jumping fallen trees may be necessary.

The GFP has an orientation that includes a Thursday ride for horses and riders to get used to the terrain and bison.