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Bison babies increase herd

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MOEISE — The National Bison Range’s herd in Moiese added 60 new family members this spring.

Outdoor recreation planner Pat Jamieson said the baby bison are doing just fine, and she expects a few more before the season’s end.

“You always get a late birth or two,” Jamieson said.

The high number of newborn calves is cause for celebration. Jamieson said only three years ago, the birth rate fell to 20 calves for two years straight. In previous years, the range had seen as many as 80 births in a single season.

“We suspected (bovine viral diarrhea) and started a pregnancy study, but the numbers came back up before we completed it,” Jamieson said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bovine viral diarrhea is a common viral disease in cattle. Similar to the flu in humans, BVD can be cured unless contracted before birth. Calves infected with BVD inutero often have a low birth weight, ataxia, tremors, wide stance, stumbling and failure to nurse. Death from BVD is common in calves.

Jamieson said it’s possible the bison herd in Moise contracted the disease, as many bison have some cattle DNA. The majority of the National Bison Range’s bison were donated or purchased from private ranchers. Whether by accident or design, some cross-breeding occurred.

Bison mating season runs from July to August. Last year, six bulls were lost as a result of fighting for mates. The cows will be pregnant for eight and a half months before they give birth again next spring.

The National Bison Range in Moise was established on May 23, 1908. It was the first time Congress appropriated money to buy land explicitly for the purpose of conservation. Today, between 350 and 500 bison call it home.

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