Buffalo have an entirely different nature than cattle.
People who have worked cattle for so many years that they can predict what they're going
to do find they can't do the same with their buffalo. The best advice we can give
cattlemen converting to buffalo is to forget about applying your cattle knowledge to
buffalo - we guarantee that it isn't going to apply! For example, in working buffalo you
need to develop the philosophy of leading, not driving. Most experienced raisers keep
their herds tame and manageable by treating them to special goodies periodically. They
absolutely love treats like range cake, or anything with molasses, and will follow the
goodie-wagon nearly anywhere once they have been trained to it. Special treats (or even
water) in their corral will get them used to going into it, and makes it much easier to
get them into the corral whenever you want.
Another important thing to remember is that buffalo have a very strong herding instinct.
They stay in cohesive groups, and it is very difficult (some say impossible) to cut
individuals from the herd.
Because they are a herd animal, for best results you'll need to maintain several in your
group. One or two buffalo will not be happy, and they will not thrive even under the best
of conditions. If there are cows or other animals nearby they will yearn to join them.
Their herd instinct is so strong that they will give up their individuality as buffalo to
leap the fence and join another species so they can be part of a 'real' herd. If you do
have sufficient buffalo to establish a herd group, however, you will generally be able to
pasture cattle and buffalo in adjoining fields. Pasturing two herds of buffalo side by
side, however, will usually result in the group ignoring the fence and becoming one herd
of buffalo. The secret to keeping buffalo where you want them is to give them no reason to
go somewhere else. Give your buffalo plenty of good feed and water, salt and minerals, and
they'll seldom try to break out.
Roy Houck, who passed away in November of 1992, was the National Buffalo Association's
founding president. His Standing Butte Ranch, in South Dakota, was the filming site used
for the movie Dances With Wolves. Roy said that once when floods took out a lot of his
fences, his cattle scattered to the four winds. But the buffalo stayed put. They knew when
they had a good thing.
Buffalo have also been observed staying put in a pasture with a rickety fence that
wouldn't hold a crippled cow. The owner said the only time they got out was when he left
the gate open. On the other hand, some owners have had a hard time keeping their buffalo
confined even with good tight strong fences. As a rule, buffalo are not as hard on fences
as cattle. But don't count on it.