Custer State Park prepares for 475 bison calves this year

KELOLAND.com Original

CUSTER, S.D. (KELO)—Custer State Park welcomed its first bison calf of the season into the world on Wednesday.

This calf is just one of the 475 babies officials expecting to see at Custer State Park this year, said Kobee Stalder, Visitor Services Program Manager at Custer State Park.

This is more calves than they have seen the past couple of years in the park. Last year, the park had about 450 bison calves; the average in the past five years has been around 425, Stalder said, but slowly, they have been growing the herd. With the calves, they have about 1,450 bison in the herd. They can only winter around 1,000 bison because of their limited rangeland.

Photos courtesy of Custer State Park

After the Legion Lake fire burned in the park that opened up a lot of grazing areas, Stalder said, which provides more range land for the growing herd.

During the buffalo round up, they can work the bison and perform pregnancy tests. This data tells them how many calves to expect during calving season.

As of Thursday, the park has only had the one calf. Stalder said this is normal to see one and then go a short period without having another one. Their prime bison calving season is usually mid-April into the first couple weeks of May.

“That’s when you’ll see the majority of the calves running around on the prairie,” Stalder said.

The park is pretty hands off; they let nature take its course when it comes to calving season in the park, Stalder said. The bison have been doing this for hundreds of years and they know how to take care of their own calves.

However, if the mother abandons the calf and the calf looks healthy, the park will step in, Stalder said. The bison herd manager on staff would take the calf down to the corral complex and call their veterinarian to come do a health check on the calf. Then, he said, the calf would most likely get bottle fed to get the nutrients it needs like it would from the mother’s milk.

Photos courtesy of Custer State Park

“Usually, those ones get sold at our annual auction,” Stalder said. “But that is pretty few and far between.”

In the last three years, Stalder can only think of one or two cases where that has happened.

“Most of the times the moms do a great job; they know exactly what they are doing,” Stalder said. “Most of them have calved more than once, so they know exactly what they are doing and how to take care of their calves.”

The park does not step in if the mother is having difficulty calving, Stalder said. This is because they are wild animals, and they can be very dangerous. It could put park staff and the bison in danger.

Photos courtesy of Custer State Park

The probability of bison having a set of twins is rare, Stalder said. After preforming pregnancy tests this year, they determined that they will not be expecting twins in their herd this calving season.

Stalder said he believes the oldest bison this past year was 22 years old. The oldest one he has seen during his time working at the park was 24 years old.

Photos courtesy of Custer State Park

The females can live longer than the mature bulls because the males are more likely to get injured during mating season where they fight each other for the right to breed, Stalder said. The oldest mature bull they have had in the park was 15 years old.


Every year, Custer State Park hosts the Buffalo Round-Up, a time where they are able to work their bison.

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