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WHERE THRIVING GRASSLANDS GROW, SO DOES HOPE
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4.09.21
THE BISON, THE BIRDS
by Taylor Collins
 
 
In Mother Nature's image, nothing goes to waste. Through synergies, collaboration, mutualism, and competition, all individual components of a greater ecosystem operate in a complex way that enriches both the individual as well as the larger community. With over 4.5 billion years of brilliant evolution, it's easy to see that Mother Nature got it right. 
 
There are few better examples of this synergistic co-evolution between two separate species than that of bison and birds. For millennia bison and birds have shared an important relationship in which both species support one another while at the same time working to amplify the health of a larger ecosystem. 
 
In Springtime this relationship peaks with a few incredible age-old occurrences that have been in place since the origination of their species. As winter draws to an end, days get longer, warmer, and bison begin shedding their thick cool season coat. Currently we are seeing this daily at ROAM Ranch and there is not a single pasture absent of bison wool. This shedding happens quickly in Central Texas as our Spring temperatures can reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit as early as April and May. While this bison fiber is seemingly everywhere, it wont stick around long.
 
  
Within a few days of the bison wool laying out in our pasture, an opportunistic bird will harvest it and incorporate the natural fiber in constructing a nest. The bison hair provides exceptional temperature regulation for fragile eggs and has the ability to insulate against both the cold nights as well as hot days. In addition to maintaining the appropriate vital temperature needed for incubating eggs, bison hair has the added benefit of disguising the smell of vulnerable young chicks in an ecosystem filled with predators. As a result, research has shown that birds who incorporate bison wool into their nest have a significantly higher chance of their chicks surviving into adulthood!
 
In a brilliant example of synergism, the same birds which the bison helped hatch, will eventually mature into becoming grassland debugging machines. Instinctively these birds will spend time scratching through bison manure looking for parasites and other pests to consume. While these parasites do no harm to birds, they can wreck havoc on an entire bison herd. Bison with high parasite loads do not gain weight, their immune systems become compromised, they struggle breeding, and in worst case scenarios actually die. In a functioning ecosystem that is abundant in bird activity, the birds themselves help keep the bison herd healthy! As you can see, year over year, this virtuous upward cycle gains momentum and lifts the health of both species. 
 
  
At our ranch, we intentionally graze our pastures in a way that maintains critical habitat for birds. This involves grazing our bison in high density and short duration sessions followed by adequate rest and recovery for plant species to come back stronger. To further kickstart this system, we run our turkeys, chickens, and ducks in the same pastures that our bison herd frequents. This is ranching in Mother Nature's image. Onwards to year over year improvement in the health of birds, bison, and overall ecosystems. 
   
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TAYLOR COLLINS

Cofounder of Force of Nature, Land Steward & Chief Bison Wrangler at Roam Ranch

 

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