The American Bison is an iconic image of the early west. Native Americans depended on these massive and unpredictable bovines for their meat, their hides for their clothing and shelter, bones for weapons and tools, sinew for thread and bow strings, hair for pillows, ribs for sleds and the hooves for rattles. Nothing from this animal was wasted and they were a revered and a necessary part of the Native American culture and livelihood. Once roaming from coast to coast, they were a part of Arizona’s northern landscape, though biologists are skeptical about their historical existence in the southern part of the state.
As one drives from Sonoita on SR 82 towards Patagonia, looking east may provide a brief glimpse into this part of the American West, as 15 bison were introduced into the Patagonia area this past April.
According to Jerry Bustamante, Community Relations Manager of Hudbay Minerals, the bison were added to the Rail X Ranch in Patagonia to diversify their existing cattle operation, stating that, “we believe it will be good for the business of our ranch and contribute to the stewardship of our lands. Our small bison herd has adapted nicely to their new environment and we plan to expand organically over the coming years.”
The bison arrived from a farm in Tennessee and now reside on 170 acres of pasture comprised of both flat and hilly segments with access to plenty of fresh water. Since bison can be impervious to regular fencing that confines domestic cattle, the Hudbay ranch has added extra height to the enclosure and reduced the distance between posts for security. Bustamante also stated that since the bison have plenty of feed and water and room to roam, they are under little stress and not apt to try to escape.
The herd currently consists of one bull, six heifers and eight calves. Two calves have been born since coming to Arizona and more are expected in the coming months. The cowboys responsible for the care of the bison have had a bit of an adjustment to make when handling the bison as they are more of a wild animal, but so far it has gone well, according to Bustamonte.