Tail up, the 2,000 pound animal lets out a bellow that sounds more like a roar of an enraged lion than a noise that a grass-eater should be making. Flashing around the corner of the corral, he catches a 300 pound metal panel out on the tip of one horn and tosses one end up into the sky. Its earthward fall ends with a thud. Seconds later, with a metallic impact, our bull hooks his horns under the bumper of our 12,000 pound diesel truck and raises the front end of the vehicle up on its shocks. At the Nan Awaya Heritage Farmstead, the evening before the state bison auction was an active one.
Our small herd comes out of animals that we purchased at the Oklahoma Bison Association (OBA) annual auction back in 2013 and 2014. For us, those sales were amazing - such incredible animals, and so many people with the knowledge gained over years of experience in raising them. Then, the auctions stopped. That was until this fall. Some of the main folks from the OBA came together again for a meeting at the end of summer and voted to hold another auction. Ian was elected president of the organization. This position has mostly been an opportunity to learn from much more experienced people and help pick up a little bit of the load wherever possible. With only a couple of months between that meeting and the sale, the OBA pulled together to plan, find the right venue, fund-raise, and host the event in a way that spoke volumes of the members' passion for the animal and each other.
As relatively new producers, the sale was a pretty big deal for our farm. We hoped to sell Spike (all of our young bulls are named “Spike”), along with a pregnant cow that just wasn’t flourishing on our largely grass-fed program. With their sale, and a little bit of cash we’d managed to scrape together, we hoped to buy 4-6
yearling heifers/heifer calves. This would give our herd the right make-up to begin producing much larger numbers of calves in the coming years - a critical and timely step in getting our ag business developed enough to begin helping us to pay off our land loans.
The morning of the sale was fraught with a series of challenges created by our older farm equipment. We stepped out of the house to find that the blinkers on our truck, which we’d just brought home from the repair shop the night before, had gone out. When we hooked up the truck to our trailer, we found that even though it was parked on sandy, level ground, we couldn’t pull it out of our pasture because the recent rain has made the soil too soft. Then, we learned that the small hole rotted through the corner of the wooden floor of our trailer could not be simply patched as we had planned; instead the entire floor was going to require a full overhaul before the trailer would be safe for our animals. These challenges, especially the last two, should have ended our plans to take our animals to sale. Our window of opportunity was saved by the unsurpassed skill and generosity of our neighbors Jim, Ryan, and Kyle, and the work of One Stop Shop in Coleman. We were on the road with just enough time to try to load the animals before dark.
Readers may remember the amusing time that we had catching our herd in a hog trap, when we first moved them out to Nan Awaya (see 4/22/17 post). This time, we planned to use our new corral at Nan Away to catch, separate, and load them. This corral is so new, in fact, that its only about 2/3 of the way done, but our friend Ed had designed a really ingenuous gate and latching mechanism that would allow us to use it as a tub. While the evening grew darker, the challenges of the day did not let up. As we worked the animals with limited equipment, there were some moments when it looked like we simply weren’t going to be able to get them to the sale after all. The corral was just complete enough, and our skill with the animals was just good enough, that the two of us got the sorting and loading done as darkness fell. The plan had been to drive the two animals to the sale barn in Sulfur that night, but delays at the auction house meant that the animals would have to spend the night parked in our driveway. Newly purchased padlocks were placed on the trailer doors to foreclosed the possibility of an even longer day bringing even more excitement.
The sale did not disappoint us in our opportunity to learn. 71 bison from different producers across the state came through the gates. We learned how to keep the sale paperwork for the animals, how to make the sale catalogue, and how to grab a backwards-turned buffalo calf by the tale to get it to go through the squeeze chute. Our mentor was Dr. Gerald Parsons, whose knowledge of bison behavior is unsurpassed. That evening, we hosted a fun auction to raise funds for the organization. Nan Awaya contributed Choctaw Trail of Tears eating bowls, made of Atoka County clay, tempered with crushed bison bone.
Sale day was an orchestra. Large, wild-eyed animals were taken through a series of turns in the corral, to come out into the arena, for the bidding, and then run back through the corral and carefully sorted into pens. Ian’s job was to take the animals from the arena to their pens. Things got interesting when some of the animals learned that they could spin around and crash through the shut gates that were designed for animals far less fast and powerful than the buffalo. No people or animals got hurt. All in all, it was good exercise and better fun.
While Ian worked the sale, Amy bid on the animals for the farm. She got us four beautiful young bison heifers that will be a core part of our herd for the next two decades. The big sale is an event that we will not soon forget. Hopefully, the OBA will be willing to do another one in about a year.
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Into Thin Air
October 16, 2019
Choctaw Food: Remembering the Land, Rekindling Ancient Knowledge