If you’ve never seen an American buffalo (bison) up close, their size will take your breath. We recently visited the Cherokee Valley Bison Farm near Thornville Ohio, and it was quite an experience seeing those giant beasts up close.
As we drove up the long lane off Lonesome Road (just the kind of name where you would expect to see buffalo) the first thing we noticed is that even though the tall fence is electrified, it’s clear that any animal that big could go right through it as if it were tinsel.
But these gentle giants live as a herd, so even if one of them does escape (which apparently happens from time to time) it just waits around trying to get back in. I wish my goats were like that.
According to owner Carie Starr, their “young” bull only weighs about 1,500 lbs. But he’ll reach at least a ton by the time he’s fully mature. Even though the bronze-colored calf that was running with the herd was only a few days old, it looked to be the same size as most any domestic breed of calf.
Bison (buffalo) are ruminants just like goats, so Carie had a lot of questions for me about natural health for her herd.
Both bison and goats are equipped with stomachs that have four chambers. The first chamber is the largest - called the rumen. The second chamber is the reticulum. The third is the omasum and the fourth is the abomasum - the true stomach. The four chambers work to process the bits of grass, blossoms, seeds and even bark that the animal will consume that makes up their daily calorie intake.
Just like goats, bison also ingest parasites as they graze or forage. All critters have parasites in their gut (these are necessary for good health). The important thing to remember is that you must maintain a “balance” of the parasites and everything will go smoothly so that the animal will experience good health. When the ruminant becomes sick from a lack of parasite balance, the animal may actually die if there is no intervention with some sort of chemical or medicinal herb mix that brings the stomach chambers back into balance.
The problems Carie encountered with her original herd sounded to me like a type of “wasting away,” a gradual decline in health of seemingly healthy animals. Bison eat lots of bugs and slugs as they tear at the pasture grass. These parasites can attach to their gut and suck out nutrition and blood. Carie did all of the right things to treat the lack of gut balance, but the one thing that wasn’t mentioned to her in any of the literature was the need to heal the gut after restoring the parasite balance.
Early in my goat herding career it became clear to me that ruminants can quickly become ill and that it is necessary to act immediately when the animal displays the first sign of not feeling their normal inquisitive goat self. Using natural remedies is ideal when this occurs, because most of what you will use to treat the problems will not harm the herd animal, or you. So even if you are over reacting – you will do no harm. We use a mixture of several medicinal herbs, depending on the problem that’s presented to me. (I’ll write more about these remedies over the coming weeks.)
After the emergency is over, the healing must begin. This is the step many people miss. Carie lost some of her herd because once the rumen had been cleared of parasites - it remained weak and injured. She didn’t know to help the animal to heal.
To help the animal to heal after a big parasite load has been eliminated, we create an herb blend to dust on the food twice per day. The blend includes slippery elm, Spanish black radish, acidophilus and bee propolis. This mix can also be mixed and applied to external wounds.
Sometimes we add vitamin C for muscle regeneration and a small scoop of the food additive ABC supplement to improve the nutrition levels. This supplement will help the gut absorb what it needs to keep the animal healthy. If the animal’s coat looks dry or she’s shedding, we’ll also add some kelp.
Next time, I’ll write more about Carie and how she ended up a bison rancher. In the meantime I hope you’ll write to me with questions or ideas for topics you’d like to see covered in this blog.
Annie Warmke lives and works at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living experiment that includes the first Earthship east of the Mississippi. She’s a goat herder, a writer and a skilled lover of nature. For more information on her work and books visit www.bluerockstation.com.
Photos by Carie Starr