SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — In the market for a pregnant buffalo? Then western South Dakota’s Custer State Park is the place to be Saturday.
More than 250 buffalo will be sold at the park’s annual auction, including 43 2-year-old pregnant heifers. The auction follows September’s jaw-dropping roundup in which more than 1,000 of the beasts stampeded across the prairie.
The sale raises money for the park system while reducing the herd to a sustainable size — something that is especially important after a mild winter and dry summer left the grassland parched and at risk for over-grazing, said Gary Brundige, the park’s resource program manager.
“We’d started to rebuild (the herd) a little bit, but this past year we were probably two-thirds normal on rainfall,” Brundige said. “So we upped the sale a little bit more than we’d initially planned.”
The auction, set in picturesque Black Hills prairie, is part of a carefully planned bison management program. The park aims to keep the herd at about 1,300 bison. Each September, cowboys and cowgirls help corral the rumbling animals in a stampede that draws thousands of spectators from across the world.
The animals are sorted, branded and checked for pregnancy. As many as 400 are sold each year — most to supplement existing herds and help start new ones. Some are used for meat.
Though Saturday’s event doesn’t draw the same crowds as the stampede, a few hundred spectators from the region come each year, said Craig Pugsley, the park’s visitors services coordinator. They’ll gather around the buffalo corrals on Wildlife Loop Road.
“It’s kind of a cool event to see if you haven’t witnessed one,” Pugsley said. “My grandpa would take me to see cattle sales when I was a boy. Watching live bison getting sold is not something you get to see often, and you don’t see it just anywhere.”
But there’s more to buy than buffalo. Custer State Park also has a famous herd of burros. Visitors feed the animals, which have become so friendly with passers-by that they stick their heads inside cars and lick windshields in hopes of getting a treat. Seventeen will be auctioned Saturday, reducing the park’s count to about 35.
Most burro buyers like the idea of a novelty pet or use the donkeys to guard sheep herds, Pugsley said.
The bison business took a hit in 2009, when bull calves fetched an average of only $580 a head. Prices have risen since then, to about $1,300 for a bull calf last year. The highest-priced animals were 2-year-old bred heifers, costing $2,740 on average, and 2-year-old breeding bulls at $2,645.
Last year’s sale of 214 bison, 18 burros and one horse brought in nearly $320,000 for the state park system.
“We’re anticipating that the prices should be pretty comparable to what we saw last year,” Brundige said.
Custer State Park waives its usual entrance fee to accommodate spectators and bidders. The auction will end when the last animal is sold — likely around 2:30 p.m. MST, Pugsley said.
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