We had quite a reality check the other day in the form of over a foot and a half of wet snow. It had been a nice warm, open fall up until then, but we knew it was going to happen sooner than later - it always does. Still, it always seems to catch you a little bit by surprise, and if you are like me, you are never fully ready for it.
2019 Banff Skijour Event
I still have plenty of grass, so I didn’t want to have to start feeding this early, but with well over a foot of snow on the level, I thought it was best to put out some hay for the old horses and the cattle. The bison seem to manage better, and it takes more than an early snowstorm for them to come around looking for handouts. They are wily critters and like to have as little human interaction as they can get away with. More often than not, they will slip in and water at night or in the early morning rather than take the chance of being seen and run the risk of having a gate closed on them. In their estimation, gates closing is a potential consequence of showing themselves in the daylight, and they aren't ready to take the gamble with their freedom. This sneaky behaviour reminds me of a bronze that the late great artist Jay Contway did back in ‘96. The bronze was of a Mexican bandit, and I imagine him leading a few horses while watering them in a creek. The title was “He Waters At Night,” I believe and reminds me of the stealth shown by my buffalo.
Jay Contways He Waters At Night, 1996
We use bison to help train our horses how to work a cow for cutting shows and ranch work. The reason for using bison rather than cattle is that they will outlast cattle by months, if not years. Cattle become dull and lethargic rather quickly when they are used daily to work horses on, but bison will last a lot longer because their flight instinct is so much stronger. They haven’t become domesticated the way cattle have. The wild spirit is still in them!
The work they give a horse is similar to what a cow does, but not quite the same, so in order to train a cowhorse or a cutter, you do still need cattle, but not in the numbers you would need if you didn't use bison. Once your buffalo are trained, they can be used for a much longer period of time before they get too quiet. It's been my experience that some will last for up to a year before needing to be traded out for fresh ones. On the other hand, you are lucky if a group of cattle last a few weeks when they are being used regularly. I have had buffalo herds for years and find that they work well for me and my program. Plus, I enjoy having them around. For me, they serve as a reminder of what the Southern Alberta prairie was like 150 years ago before the white man came along and turned the grass upside down and fenced the country up. Lots have changed in that time, but given the room to roam, the bison are still wilder than mountain scenery.
This brings another memory to mind. Don Edwards, who passed away the other day, was a master at lamenting this past era, and I have enjoyed his music for years. So I, like Don did, like to surround myself with things that remind me of a fast-fading way of life. Don Edwards will be missed, and a line from one of his songs stays with me, like Jay Contways bronze. “I loved my fellow man the best when he was scattered some.”
You can listen to Don's song The Cowman Here and join me in enjoying those lyrics. Rest in peace, Don.