Okay, the roundup is over. The hard work done. Last weekend, some 400 riders on horseback pushed roughly 700 buffalo, proper name American bison, into corrals at the northern end of Antelope Island.
While the roundup is interesting, the better half of the show will be this weekend when state biologist, doctors and volunteers give each and every buffalo a physical.
Ever consider giving a 1,500-pound, not real happy animal, with rock-hard horns, a physical? It’s not easy, but it is interesting.
The physicals will begin on Thursday and run through Saturday. The public is invited to spectate. Tours will be given each day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The physicals will take place at the buffalo corrals on the northern end of the island.
Herded bison are held in large corrals where they are fed, watered and rested prior to checkup.
The way this will work is simple. Buffalo, young and old, small and very large, will be herded into chutes that lead to a hydraulic machine with vertical “fingers.’’ As the animals move into the machine, the “fingers’’ gently close around the buffalo, holding it firm and in place.
To get the buffalo into the chutes is by itself a chore.
Once rounded up, the bison are held in a large corral, where they are fed, watered and left to rest for several days.
The Utah Division of Parks and Recreation then uses a fleet of battle-tested and battered vehicles that move slowly among the animals until a small group is isolated in a pocket near a gate. The vehicles then herd the bison down to the open gate and into a smaller corral.
A tractor with a wooden shield on the front then pushes the group into a area that leads to the chute, which is only wide enough for the bison to move through one at a time.
A special hydraulic cage holds the bison while staff complete checkups.
Eventually, one by one, they move to the final stage where the “fingers’’ grip the animal and testing begins. Each buffalo carries a small computer chip with its life history recorded.
The hydraulic press allows veterinarians to run tests. First, blood samples are taken and checked for brucellosis, a disease that can be passes to cattle. The island herd is special in that it has been disease free. One of the more interesting tests, to some, is where a veterinarian puts on a large plastic glove that goes from finger tips to arm pit. The vet then actually reach inside the rear orifice of the cows to check for pregnancy.
Another part to the checkup is the buffalo are split into two groups—those that will remain on the island and those to be sold on the open market. Some buy the animals for their meat. Buffalo meat is said to be healthier then beef. Other bidders buy the buffalo to either start to strengthen an existing herd.
From the larger herd the bison are broken out into smaller groups and then moved into a chute.
The sale will take place on Nov. 12 at the buffalo corrals.
The second group of buffalo are released back onto the island to roam, give birth to calves and wait for next year’s roundup.
The island itself is 15 miles long and 7 miles across at its widest point. The American bison were brought to the island in 1893. Along with the buffalo, the island holds California bighorn sheep, mule deer, antelope, coyotes, bobcats and several hundred species of birds.
The only expense to visitors is the regular park entrance fee, which is $9 per vehicle or $3 for bicycles and walk-ins.
To reach the island and corrals, take exit 332 off I-15, then follow Antelope Drive west for seven miles to the park entrance. A seven-mile-long causeway leads to the island. Signs will point the way to the corrals.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through mid-November, then 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Visitor Center hours: 9 .m. to 5 p.m.
Park Size: 28,022 acres
History: Fielding Garr Ranch on eastern shore
Ranch hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fee: $9 per car, $6 Utah seniors 62-plus $6, cyclist and pedestrians $3