BSC Bison Symposium-June 22-25, 2022

The BSC Dakota Bison Symposium kicked off with a pre-conference evening meal in the 4th floor showplace in the Energy Building for invited speakers—some just flying in—committee members and bus hosts on Wed evening June 22, 2022. The 4th floor dining room provides guests a spectacular view of the blue Missouri River rolling away toward the southeast through this great valley of big old cottonwood trees. We can see two bridges plus the old Northern Pacific railroad bridge barely discernable through the gnarly cottonwood trees at the far right. Photo credit Francie M Berg.

Day 1—Friday, June 23, 2022

On Day 1 we learn about the changing role of the bison from Pleistocene time until the present, as well as its cultural significance to our Native citizens.

President of Bismarck State College Dr. Douglas J. Jensen welcomes participants to the Bison Symposium that finally became a reality after nearly three years of planning. Who knew when we began to talk about the importance of our national mammal—the bison or buffalo— their near extinction and the conservation efforts involved in the restoration to Native and federal lands, that travel restrictions caused by a worldwide pandemic would postpone or even threaten cancellation of the symposium? Co-chairs of the BSC Bison Symposium committee are Dr. Larry Skogen, President Emeritus of BSC, and Erik Holland, Curator of Education with the State Historical Society. The BSC Dakota Bison Symposium, was made possible by the generosity of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockstad Foundation, and Bismarck State College Foundation. All persevered and we are delighted to have overcome all obstacles. Photo credit James Kambeitz.



Jon Eagle Sr., Standing Rock Historic Preservation Officer, kicks-off the symposium by discussing the cultural and spiritual significance of the American Bison to Great Plains Indigenous people. He talked about where the buffalo came from in a Native American point of view. Photo JK.



Here Andrew C. Isenberg, Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas and author of ‘The Destruction of the Bison,’ explains how millions of bison were slaughtered to market the hides, meat, tongues and bones. “Like other environmental catastrophes in the American West . . . the destruction of the bison was in part, the result of the unstainable exploitation of natural resources,” he said. Photo JK.



A panel discussion of the restoration of bison and economic aspects of raising buffalo included Kevin Leier, at left, executive director of the North Dakota Bison Association, Brendan Moynahan, Chair of the Department of Interior’s Bison Working Group and planning for the National Park Service, and Arnell D. Abold, who served 4 years as Executive Director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe, and now works with the Tanka Fund to help restore bison to tribal lands.

 Abold devotes her career to the vision of seeing Bufalo on the land, believing “that Buffalo are the connection for our people to believe in a better tomorrow and together we can help create a reality that empowers us to live not only a better today but inspires us to keep fighting for a better future for the people, the land and the Buffalo.” Photo Credit JK.



This panel discussed bison and healthy Native communities and included Mike Faith (left), who for over 16 years was manager of the Standing Rock Tribal bison herds, is former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a founding member and vice president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council; Dr Michael LeBeau, a vice president with Sanford Health who is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation in South Dakota; and Taylor Syvertson, Director of Ending Hunger at the Great Plains Food Bank. Dr LeBeau spoke about health, especially mental health of tribal members. Their emphasis was on how bison contribute to the health of Native communities. Photo JK.



Dr. Chris Widga, Paleontologist and Head Curator at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum at East Tennessee State University, speaks on the arrival of bison in North America, their response to drastic changes in Ice Age climates and their impact on the environment. Photo JK.



Kevin Locke, a world famous visionary Hoop Dancer, traditional story teller, cultural ambassador, recording artist, educator and player of the Indigenous Northern Plains flute, entertains with a Hoop Dance using up to 26 hoops. He has performed to over hundreds of thousands of people in over 90 countries. His special joy is working with children on the reservations to ensure the survival and growth of indigenous culture.

Two excellent short films from the Blackfeet Reservation were shown on how the Blackfeet are developing a buffalo herd and how it relates spiritually to tribal members. Photos JK.



Bison was a favorite food for the BSC Bison Symposium. The Native American chef who catered this delightful Day 1 supper of selected indigenous foods for our menu—bison meat purchased from various tribes for hamburgers and chili, with cranberry sauce on the side. A delicious Bison Meatball Stroganoff was served for the Day 2 evening meal. Photos JK.



Day 2—Friday, June 24, 2022

You’ll have the opportunity to experience “where the buffalo roam.”

For Day 2 tour of Southwest North Dakota and Northwest South Dakota buffalo heritage sites, large buses arrive at John Lopez’s Main Street Kokomo Gallery in Lemmon, SD, on Friday morning, June 24, 2022. Between 75 and 80 people rode the 2 buses that day. Photo Credit Kathy Berg Walsh.



BSC Bison Tour makes its first stop at Kokomo Gallery. Sculptor John Lopex (at left) explains his current work. Photo KBW.



In the Kokomo Gallery is John’s pair of full-size fighting buffalo bulls. The bull on the right represents Sitting Bull, the other General Custer, two leaders he selected because their paths crossed near here along the North Grand River (Custer in 1874 heading for the Black Hills and Sitting Bull on a buffalo hunt here in October 1883, after 50,000 wild buffalo suddenly returned to the Great Sioux Reservation). Photo JK.



Shadehill Buffalo Jump from the north side of the lake. When first settlers arrived in the area, 2 layers of buffalo bones were exposed across the face of this steep cliff for about 100 ft up and down the river, according to SD author Archer Gilfillan. The first layer, 12 feet deep was about 25 feet below the top of the cliff. Beneath that was a 4 ft layer of earth, then a 2nd layer of bones 4 ft thick—the bottom of which was 100 ft above the bed of the river (before the dam was built in the 1950s).

The bones of the jump—like most known buffalo jumps in the US and Canada were “mined” and the bones shipped to munitions plants on the west coast during WWII. Phosphorus was extracted for explosives. This was one way people at home supported the war effort.

Buffalo jumps have 3 parts: the bone pile below, a steep cliff, and most important of all, drive lines on the plateau above where buffalo often graze. Native leaders who made the buffalo jumps work had a deep understanding of buffalo behavior. Religious rites, traditional dancing and prayers also played an integral part in the hunts. These were people without horses or guns. They prayed for courage, skill and teamwork, as well as cooperation from their relatives, the buffalo. Photo KBW.



Chris Widga, Paleontologist and Head Curator at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum at East Tennessee State University at Shadehill Buffalo Jump. Experts and Native American leaders and storytellers give their perspectives on the historic buffalo sites as we travel. At far right in this Shadehill Buffalo Jump photo you can also see the video professional James Kambeitz who filmed each segment. His edited videos will be available to the public—especially for state History teachers—through the ND State Heritage Center. Photo KBW.



This view from the south side of Shadehill Lake leads out to the buffalo jump cliff itself. “I’ve tried to sketch here what might have happened. The best kept secrets of success are not with the drive lines themselves, brush and branches waving from both sides—although these were necessarily carefully engineered to keep the wild herd on track,” according to author FM Berg. “Dr Jack Brink, Canadian anthropologist and author of the book ‘Imagining Head-Smashed-In’ says he never read about this next technique in any book, but was told by a Blackfeet elder that before the buffalo were brought up, a trail was made down the center—by a hunter who pulled a buffalo hide behind him dropping buffalo chips all the way, while covering his moccasin tracks.

“Then he adds that some tantalizing activity is used to tempt the herd to charge down the trail. A medicine man might prance and dance calling and singing to the buffalo, exciting and attracting their curiosity.

“Or even better, a couple of young men scuffle on the trail, one wearing a wolf skin and the other a buffalo hide. The pretend calf bleats out with a perfect imitation of desperate calls for help—and anxious mothers in the herd come on the run to rescue him from the snarling pretend wolf. By this time the herd is in frantic stampede—and off the cliff they go.

“However, it’s a very dangerous place for everyone at the cliff drop-off waving hides, trying to prevent buffalo from escaping off to the side. If one gets past, the others might follow and all is lost.” Photo FMB.



Francie Berg shares what she calls the “best kept secrets of the buffalo Jumps”–describing ways buffalo were lured down the trail right to the jump off. “Makes sense to me!” Photo JK.



Co-chairman Larry Skogen, who grew up in Hettinger, where his parents owned the Coast-to-Coast hardware store, invites visitors to give their impressions and personal knowledge of buffalo jump sites. Photo JK.



Vince Gunn, retired Perkins County Extension agent—who has lived all his life across the water from Shadehill Buffalo Jump—shares his view of the jump and some local history. Photo JK.



In the South Dakota park at Shadehill Recreation Area by the lake, visitors pick up their sack lunches, furnished by the Lemmon IGA grocery, and find a pleasant shady spot to relax a few minutes before getting back on the buses and moving on. Photo JK.


(Bold 16 pt) NEXT: Blog 63-Part 2 BSC Bison Symposium, June 22-25, 2022


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Five Tips to Keeping Livestock Vaccines Viable on Farm

Vaccines are crucial to keeping livestock healthy and productive, says South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Veterinarian and State Public Health Veterinarian Russ Daly.

While vaccines don’t provide absolute protection, the “added insurance” helps stimulate the animal’s immune system and increases its ability to fight off an infection or lessen the impact of disease if it should occur.

“Herd history, vaccine type, method of administration and age of animal all come into play, so it is critical for producers to work with their local veterinarian in developing a vaccination program,” says Daly. “They have experience with and knowledge of the many different vaccines, as well as the disease issues in area herds.”

Most vaccines are either modified-live virus (MLV) or inactivated “killed.” MLV vaccines contain whole germs that have been altered such that, while they are able to multiply within the body, their ability to cause disease has been taken away. Inactivated vaccines contain bacteria or viruses that have been inactivated by heat or chemicals.

Whether the producer/veterinarian team chooses an inactivated or MLV vaccination program, Daly says it’s important that the vaccines don’t go past their prime.

“Proteins are the major components of the organisms that make up both killed and MLV vaccines, and they disintegrate according to two major factors: time and temperature.

In addition, common disinfectants and ultraviolent light can reduce the viability of modified-live organisms.

Daly recommends the following tips for handling, storing and using vaccines:

  1. Purchasing vaccines and equipment: Observe expiration dates prior to purchase. Purchase the appropriate type and sufficient number of needles for the job. Plan on replacing needles when they become bent, dull or dirty, and before drawing up vaccine into the syringe.
  2. Transporting and storing vaccines: Keep boxes and bottles cool and out of sunlight while in transport. Use frozen ice packs in an insulated box in the summer and prevent vaccines from freezing in the winter. Prior to use, store vaccines in a properly working refrigerator.
  3. Equipment and work area: Use clean syringes, but not those that have had internal parts cleaned with soap or chemical disinfectants, including alcohol. Set up an area for syringes such that they are shaded and kept cool and dust-free while working.
  4. While working: Keep vaccine bottles in a closed cooler with ice packs (summer) or hot packs (winter) until they are needed. When using MLV vaccines, rehydrate the vials either one at a time as they are needed or as many as you will use within an hour. Always use a brand-new needle to draw vaccine into the syringe. Protect syringes from heat, light and freezing while working. When using needle-free injection systems, or syringes that draw doses from a tube attached to the vaccine bottle, care should be taken to assure the bottle and tubing stay cool and shaded from sunlight.
  5. After job is complete: Discard any unused MLV vaccine that has been reconstituted. Discard any partial bottles of inactivated vaccine that have been contaminated by dirty needles. Return unmixed MLV and unused inactivated vaccines to a properly working refrigerator as soon as possible. Clean syringes, transfer needles and tubing. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on proper cleaning and maintenance of needle-free injection systems.

For more information on how vaccines work and proper storage and handling recommendations, visit the SDSU Extension website for this fact sheet on vaccine basics and tips to maintain vaccine viability. South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007. Call 1.605.688.4792 or email

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Buffalo Roam Free at the 7,000-Acre Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park In Ohio

Did you know that there’s a place in Ohio where the buffalo roam free? Few people do.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park in Galloway, Ohio is home to two prairies where you can watch these majestic animals graze.

It’s a hidden gem beloved by locals and a pleasant surprise to visitors who aren’t from the area. Here’s why this truly unique park is a must-visit, no matter what time of year it is:

Stretching across more than 7,000 acres, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park is home to a herd of bison that roam free. It’s a best kept Ohio secret.

The buffalo roam freely within two enclosed pastures. You can often view the herd from the Darby Creek Greenway Trail, the bison overlook deck and the Nature Center.

Once the spring season hits, the bison get a health check-up before they’re released from the winter grazing area and sent into the prairie pasture.

In addition to watching these majestic creatures roam, you’ll want to check out the wetlands—a diverse landscape makes this park special.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

With a new white bison calf joining the herd in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, community members say it’s a sign to get back to living in balance with nature.

 The calf born on April 16 is the eighth white bison to be born on the First Nation in as many years. They are part of a herd of 104 bison in the community about 40 kilometres west of Brandon, Manitoba.  

 “The white buffalo is a blessing and a warning for our people, not just Native people but all people,” said Kevin Tacan, one of the community’s spiritual advisors, whose family also takes care of the herd.

 Tacan said climate change is noticeable not only to us, but to animals as well

 “They’re starting to come back, reminding us that we’re supposed to be living in balance with nature,” he said.

 “We’re supposed to be living in balance with the animals and the natural world, and we’re not doing that.”

 Tacan said First Nations have a special relationship with bison.

 “We have a very close, spiritual relationship with the buffalo, because we both experienced genocide,” he said.

 “And right now we’re getting our apologies from governments, but there are no apologies coming for the buffalo herd yet, and it’s something we’d like to see down the road.” 

He said the bison are there for community members and other folks who come and pray. 

“They pray for relatives who are sick or who are struggling in life with addictions or anything like that,” he said.

“They’re all different tribes that are coming here and doing their ceremonies here.”

Tobacco offerings tied in colourful fabrics line the fence, left by previous visitors. 

“The buffalo would come and check them out, and listen to their prayers and then hopefully they’ll carry our prayers for the year, so that we can live a healthier, happier life,” said Tacan. 

Keeping the herd wild

Tony Tacan, Kevin’s brother, is the community herd rancher, and a council member.

He said this is the second bison herd they started after being given a white bison by the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg in 2010. 

His family takes care of the bison, along with their horses. 

“We took the responsibility on for the community, to ensure that they’re fed, watered, cared for,” said Tony Tacan. 

“We’ve been doing that for so many years now.”

He said his brothers and cousins help out, along with his sons and nephews. 

“We expect to keep them wild, we don’t want to domesticate them,” he said.

“That’s not the way of our people.” 

Tony Tacan said there will be upcoming changes to the area, with a cement pad created for the elders’ handi-van, and signs on the main road directing people to the compound. A space for gatherings is also in the works. 

“We make sure we have a place for people to come and pray; it offers people hope,” he said.

“Times being what they are, we need them to come here and feel better.” 

(From The CBC)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Canada has developed detailed national guidelines or Codes for the care and handling of farm animals, including bison and poultry. The Codes serve as the national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices.

The writers of these codes come together from a wide background of experience in studying and handling specific animals. They meet together and make decisions on what Canadian recommendations should be for each species.

Roy Lewis, DVM, is a veterinarian who served on the committee for the updated 2017 Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison. The decision makers of these codes come from a wide background of experience in studying and handling buffalo.

Dr Roy Lewis, an Alberta veterinarian who has worked with bison many years and served on the committee updating the National Canadian “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison,” sent me links to the Canadian bison codes.

He is also helping plan the International Bison Convention to be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, July 12-15, 2022, and has served as a part-time technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison was released in 2001 and updated in 2017. In Canada, scoring bison in your herd is considered an important management tool that allows ranchers to monitor and evaluate their feeding programs—and to adjust as needed.

The following comes from Appendix C of the Canadian code which discusses Body Condition Scoring. Much of this is adapted from What’s the Score: BisonBody Condition Scoring Guide from Alberta Agriculture.

Bison Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a method of assessing the amount of fat cover on an animal, Since hands-on examination is impractical with bison the 5 point system for bison uses primarily visual clues.

The BCS system is a 5-point scale where a score of 1 means that the animal is extremely thin or emaciated and a score of 5 means that the animal is very fat. 

Bison’s nutritional requirements and feed intake vary with day length/season

A certain amount of weight loss is expected over the winter months. However, to accommodate this winter weight loss, bison need to be in good condition in the fall. Adult bison should not lose more than 1 to 1.5 body condition score during the winter feeding.

This table outlines target BCS for different classes of bison at different times of the year, generally scoring 3 to 5.

Table C.1 – Seasonal body condition score targets for breeding herds1

There are several features of bison anatomy that make condition scoring bison different from scoring cattle. Special attention is given to the hip bones, rump and hump.  

Body condition scoring should be performed using a consistent procedure by an experienced person or one who has been mentored in the process. Evaluate the key landmarks of the hump, ribs, spine, hip bones, rump and tail head, and then take in the overall appearance of the animal.

Consider factors such as hair coat and the animal’s age, and then record the score on a 1 to 5 scale; half points (2.5/5) or a range (2–3/5) may be used, especially if the scoring is visual only.

All animals should be evaluated and scored if possible, or if that is impractical, a large cross-section of each class of animal in the herd should be scored. Determine the average for each class and note any particularly thin or fat animals.

Adjust feeding and management as necessary in order to meet BCS targets and take corrective action for individuals outside of the target ranges. 

What’s the Score?

BODY CONDITION SCORING CAN HELP BISON producers manage their herd for optimal health, production, and profitability. Body condition refers to the amount of fat that an animal is carrying. Body condition scoring is designed to estimate the amount the fat the animal has. It is a useful management tool that helps farmers and ranchers do a better job feeding their stock.


THE FIRST BODY CONDITION SCORING SYSTEM was developed for sheep because producers could not determine how fat or thin a ewe was when she was in fleece. The manual palpation method for determining BCS was developed to overcome this problem. This system was later adapted for use with beef and dairy cattle and later for bison.

The system presented for bison in this article has been adapted from the beef and dairy cattle 5 point scale. A body condition score (BCS) of 1 indicates that the animal is very thin. A BCS of 5 indicates that it is very fat. Since bison are seldom caught in a squeeze to allow a “hands on” body condition scoring system, most of the criteria used to assess the animal are visual clues.

While learning how to body condition score bison, it is helpful to feel the bison in a squeeze so that you can feel what you think you are seeing under their thick hair coat. Once a person is experienced in scoring bison, visual clues are adequate.


IDEAL CONDITION SCORE DEPENDS ON THE TIME of year. Over the different seasons of a year it is normal for a bison’s weight and body condition score to fluctuate. Most people aim to have their bison fat in the fall so that they do not require as much feed over the winter.

Most experienced producers aim to have their bison lean in the spring because excess fat may lead to calving problems. By the beginning of breeding season, the cows should be back to a moderate to good body condition to ensure optimal conceptions rates.


November 4 3-4+

April 2+ 2-3

July 3+ 3-3+

By knowing your herd’s body condition score, you can adjust your feeding to meet the above targets. If the animals are too thin, increasing the amount or quality of feed and supplements will increase their body condition score. If the animals are too fat, the opposite is possible and money can be saved in the winter feed bill.

One must be aware that any change in BCS should be gradual as rapid changes, either up or down, can cause health problems.

Rapid weight loss in fat bison can precipitate a disease called “Fatty Liver Syndrome” and cause death. Rapid weight gains on grain diets are possible but this type of diet can cause digestive upsets and may cause death as well.


IN BISON, ONE UNIT OF BCS IS ROUGHLY EQUIVALENT TO 90 pounds of live tissue weight. The approximate composition of this tissue would be 70% fat, 24% water, 6% protein and 1% mineral (adapted from dairy cow research by Otto and co-workers, 1991).


EXPERIENCE INDICATES THAT COWS THAT ARE too fat at calving (BCS >4), were more prone to reproductive diseases such as difficult calving than cows with lower BCS. Cows that are thin (BCS<2) experience reduced fertility.


There is variation between animals in how they deposit fat. Factors such as age, sex, subspecies differences, and even individual animal variation will affect the score that they exhibit at each of the scoring areas of the body. By scoring several areas and averaging the scores we get a much more accurate overall body condition score for the animal than just using one area. For example an old bison cow may look like a BCS of 2 when looking at her ribs but the other areas indicate that she is a 3. This cow would get an overall score of 3. The table can be used to score bison in the field.

OFTEN AN ANIMAL BEING EVALUATED DOES NOT meet the exact criteria of a given BCS but falls somewhere between 2 scores. The evaluator can assign them a value with a “+” sign which indicates that they are slightly more than the score given but not at the level of the next score. For example a cow scoring between a BCS of 2 and a BCS of 3 may be scored as a BCS 2+.

For further information about Body Condition Scoring see What’s the Score? Body Condition Scoring for Livestock DVD and PDF materials (available from Alberta Agriculture at: 

Dr. Lewis comments

Of course, after studying all this, I had a few more questions for Roy Lewis, DVM, and of course he has more points to make. He’s a believer in this.

How hard is it to learn how to score—are most bison ranchers able to figure it out?

“With bison we’re usually looking at various spots over the animal tail head and transverse processes on the spine, at a distance, so we get a pretty accurate but a rougher idea than with cattle. Bison always look thinner than cattle and that is fine.”

Should the herd score similarly or is there a wide variation in conditioning between the best and worst even in one herd?

“As with any herd we’re always going to get variation–some a little over-fat, some a little thinner but we hit for the average. The thinner ones could indicate clinical disease, age or being low on the pecking order.”

What about those big shedding sheets of hair that hang on many buffalo for so much of the summer—don’t they get in the way of seeing what’s going on? 

“The shed is an interesting one but for those that have still a massive sheet into the summer there is something wrong, such as parasites or malnutrition.

“For example in the Code 1 under Body Condition the lower right-hand picture was one of a heavily parasitized bison yearling of a client. You can see the shed is still pretty much intact in June. This person was losing bison to parasitism and once they cleared that up and the shed was removed they were slick and pretty easy to body condition score.“

How about owners who might be sensitive about how their animals rate? Do they really want to know if it’s not so great?

“Owners should have no issue rating their bison because this is helping them see how their feed program is working. Body condition will hurt the performance, but also the reproductive rate, so it definitely affects profitability.

“Bison will look after themselves,” Dr Lewis concludes. “But if feed is short we need to supplement.” 


Make a chart with the following headings:


TAG #              RIBS        SPINE        HIB BONE     TAIL HEAD        HUMP           OVERALL

Assign score (1-5) to each body area for each animal. Then average numbers for an overall score for each animal.

1Adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.  

2Adapted from What’s the Score: Beef Cow – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-beef-cow.pdf.

3Adapted from Haigh J. & Grinde J. (2007) Reproductive management of bison. In: Current Therapy in Large Animal Theriogenology. 2nd ed. Eds. R. Youngquist & W. Threlfall. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier, pp. 1005–1011.

4Line drawings and written BCS descriptions for the remainder of the section adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.

Courtesy of National Canadian Codes of Practice.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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