Orphan Bison Calf - June 2003


Dear Gerald:

We have an abandoned twin that we have been bottle feeding for about a week and she is doing fine. We're using the bison replacer which she seems to be doing well on. It is rather work intensive for our lifestyle and we have had a neighbor offer to take her to their place where they had a goat pen (not used for several years) and feed her as long as is necessary. My husband and I both work so she doesn't get a lot of interaction other than at feeding time so it seems like a good solution to me.

I'm concerned about the process of reintroducing her to the herd and what are the implications if we have her bottle fed somewhere else separate from a bison herd with children for playmates. Your article on the website says they can be weaned at 3-4 months. Do you keep them separated from the herd until they're weaned? Could they bring her back then and put her back into the herd and have her be okay?

We're not sure what to do here. Any suggestions?



When the orphan is reintroduced into the herd, there will be some adjusting. Most of the time the bison will be accepted back into the herd in time but it may take a while. When you first put her out with the others, she will be chased away and possibly bullied. The other bison will know that she is different and she will not know that she belongs in the herd. Most people report that the orphan will either hang out by herself or be on the outskirts of the herd at first. Gradually she will become part of the herd as they get used to each other.

I have not heard of an orphan bison that did not eventually get accepted back into the herd. However, I did hear about an elk that was never accepted by the herdmates. You can bring them back to the bison pasture before weaning and continue to feed them milk while with the other bison. Most calves will come running when you arrive with the bottle. You want to make sure that she is big and strong enough to take a little bit of chasing and bunting when she is reintroduced.

It is a good idea to have a companion for the bison calf while being orphaned. A beef calf or holstein calf works well. You mentioned that there were goats in the pen at one time. Be sure that there are no sheep on the farm where the orphan is going so that it doesn't contract malignant catarrhal fever (MCF).

Gerald Hauer
Bison Centre of Excellence

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