2018 Texas State Bison Herd Annual Roundup
By: Donald Beard, Park Superintendent
Caprock Canyons State Park’s annual roundup and working was recently completed here at the park. After about a month of gathering and penning animals from the park interior, staff spent the better part of two days working them through the system. The working consists of sorting out about 3-5 animals by foot and sending them down a long alleyway until they reach the state of the art working facilities. Once they reach this area, they are guided through the system until they reach a holding area directly behind the squeeze chute. At this time park staff and volunteers will send one animal at a time to staff waiting at the chute. Once in the chute and secured, the animal is then vaccinated, weighed, wormed, and checked for pregnancy if a cow. All calves are given an ear tag in one ear, an electronic tag in another ear, and finally blood and hair samples are taken from all new calves to test DNA and to add to the herd lineage. The goal of the park is to work each animal quietly and efficiently to reduce the amount of stress. Stress can affect bison much more than domestic cattle. Stress and heat can be fatal factors, which is why low stress handling in winter is the prescription for a successful bison working.
The Caprock Canyons State Park Staff at the 2018 Texas State Bison Herd Roundup. From left to right: Ranger Jake Gass, Bison Ranger C.L. Hawkins, Lead Ranger James Ortiz, Ranger Cody Clark, Assistant Park Superintendent Dawson Enloe, Ranger Dennis Farley, Park Interpreter Le’Ann Pigg, Assistant Office Manager Rebecca Miller, Customer Service Representative Karla Butler, Office Manager Freda Hughes, and Park Superintendent Donald Beard.
The staff at Caprock have been working bison for several years and have become quite adept at performing this task. The level of teamwork displayed is amazing as each team member works effortlessly at their assigned task, and is willing to step in where needed at any time. As the Park Superintendent, I am very proud of the staff at Caprock and can’t express my pride and appreciation enough.
This is the ninth working that I have been a part of, and can attest to the fact that each one has been completed better than the year before. The Caprock team has constantly shown their ability and desire to improve upon the previous year to increase both worker and bison safety.
The view from above as bison are brought through the chute for individual health checks, vaccinations, pregnancy tests, and other tasks needed to keep the herd in top form.
C.L. Hawkins is the bison ranger and heads up the annual working. The gathering and preparation for each year’s working falls under his job description. Making sure that all of the gates, alleys, and chute are operational, to securing the medication, organizing the tags, overseeing the sample collection and working the chute are just a few tasks that he is responsible for. He works closely with his supervisor, Lead Ranger James Ortiz and his fellow Park Rangers to make sure that the facilities are functioning at the high level of quality needed to complete the working.
Once the day arrives, the Park Interpreter, Le’Ann Pigg becomes our data collections chief and is responsible for recording the large amount of data required for historical records. Office Manager, Freda Hughes is instrumental at the chute doing dual jobs of collecting hair samples for later DNA testing and securing the animal in the chute for processing. Assistant Office Manager Rebecca Miller and Ranger Cody Clark have been working the upper gates in the alleys behind the chute for several years and continuously do so with great confidence and skill. Rangers James Ortiz and Jake Gass are the “guys on the ground,” and are behind the scenes, working in the pens sorting the animals out. This is a task that requires both patience and skill, along with cat like reflexes. Ranger Dennis Farley works opposite of C.L. on the chute, helping to capture the animals, install ear tags, apply medication and assist the vet with health checks.
Assistant Park Superintendent, Dawson Enloe spent his time working the gates and filling in where needed. He does a great job motivating the troops and keeping a watch out for safety issues.
This year marks the first time our new Customer Service Rep, Karla Butler has attended the working, and she jumped right in and became part of the team working gates like a pro!
Once the working begins, all park staff not only works the assignments listed above, but are able to work any area and does not hesitate to help out where needed.
This year we had some special guests helping us with working the bison. Region V Manager Shannon Blalock was only recently appointed to her new position and has made it a priority to visit all of the parks in her large region. She was accompanied by our Fiscal Control Specialist, Suzy Hearne and together, they spent the morning witnessing all aspects of our annual working. They were even fortunate enough to see some bison up close and personal!
In addition to Shannon and Suzy, we had State Representative Ken King’s district coordinator, Kathy Dumbauld and Caprock Partners Foundation president Emily Teegardin, both of whom were able to provide much needed assistance working gates and moving animals.
After analyzing the data, our best estimate for the number of animals within the park is 156. This number is an estimate based upon the number of animals worked, plus the number of animals that remained in the park. In order to reduce danger to both animals and people, we attempt to leave the majority of full grown bulls out of the working. This is fairly easy to do, because they generally stay in the back of the park and don’t congregate with the main herd this time of year.
We do know that we have a total of 58 breeding cows now and a 90% pregnancy rate! This spring we should see another 45 or so calves born.
The Caprock Partners Foundation was gracious enough to provide lunch from the Turkey Hotel for this year’s bison working.
I suggest that you make your reservations now to come out this spring to see the newborn bison calves and the tiny prairie dog pups!
Visit our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/caprock.canyons
Park Superintendent Donald Beard with a member of the Texas State Bison Herd!
We look forward to seeing you this year at Caprock Canyons State Park!