The key to working successfully with bison — iconic members of the bovidae family that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds — is simple, says rancher Dylan Handrich.
“Generally it’s a matter of respect,” Handrich said.
Having spent much of his life working with the animals on the Prairie Monarch Ranch north of Laramie, Handrich would know. Bison can be more headstrong than other stock, he said, and raising them requires some thoughtfulness.
“It’s more of a conditioning thing, or moreso making it their idea. It’s not like you push them and get them to do something that’s not their idea. In that case they’ll run the other way and maybe go through a fence,” Handrich said. “It’s more of a hands-off and planning approach. You can’t go out there and round them up like a whole bunch of cattle.”
There are docile individuals in the herd, though. One hulking bull, who Handrich calls Billy the Bison, came to Handrich as an orphaned calf. Handrich bottle-raised him and the bull latched on, even letting a younger Handrich ride him on occasion. “When they get bottle fed … they really bond to that one person,” Handrich said.
Handrich’s parents started the ranch in 1992, converting it from a cattle operation and starting with a small bison herd. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Handrich took over. Today, he runs about 600 animals on several thousand acres of high prairie bordered by the Union Pacific rail line. The operation is certified organic, and the bison are grass-fed.
He currently has more animals than he would prefer, he said. “The COVID thing kind of backed up the markets.”