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Bringing up a buffalo baby . . . Tami Gravesen, above, took on
feeding duties for a bison calf after he was orphaned during a
thunderstorm. Gravesen's dog Piper looks on (right), waiting
for feeding time to end and playtime to begin. The calf and dog
are still working out their friendship, but the bison calf
welcomes Tami's presence in his pen.
By Caroline Downs
A random lightning strike on May 22nd determined Tami Gravesen’s summer plans.
During thunderstorms that rolled across the region early that evening, a bison cow belonging to Roger and Shelley Ness was struck and killed by lightning.
The cow had recently given birth to a calf, and the newborn had no chance of survival on its own in the pasture. Roger discovered the dead cow and her starving calf, and called Tami Gravesen, known for her passion and skill at caring for animals.
“And then Roger shows up with this calf,” Tami said, who took over bottle-feeding duties.
Roger also provided bags of lamb milk replacer, the closest substitute for bison milk, and some fence panels. The bull calf, dubbed “Tatanka” by Roger, has his own enclosure next to Tami’s barn now, and Tami handles his meals.
Which means four bottles each day.
“When I first got him, I got up in the middle of the night to feed him,” Tami said, “but I don’t have to do that anymore.”
She starts with an early morning bottle, then lunch about noon, the third bottle in late afternoon or early evening, and the final feeding at 10 pm. Tatanka slurps down nearly four pints at each meal, and has started showing interest in hay and grain left out for him.
He spends his days in the pen, with shade provided by a wall of large round hay bales and a tarp. He gets sleepy after each meal, so Tami’s friends and family often find her seated under the tarp with the calf curled up next to her, snoring peacefully. “I usually sit down with him for about 30 minutes or so,” she said, laughing.
At night, Tami secures Tatanka in the barn. He has been separated from her two horses, who also spend nights there, but the calf has demonstrated his resourcefulness by crawling through the slats of the wooden feed rack to join them.
“He’s been fun, and he’s starting to show his personality,” Tami said, even as Tatanka snorted and bawled for her as she walked across the yard with his noon bottle.
Tami has been teased by her husband and sons about her buffalo project, and she’s changed some of her travel wishes for the summer, but the calf’s feeding schedule has to be maintained. Tatanka has obviously bonded to his caregiver, judging from the way he hides behind Tami’s legs when approached by a stranger. The little bull will return to the Ness herd later this summer, though, when he is able to be weaned.
In the meantime, Tami is enjoying the calf and making plans to break him to lead so he’ll be easier to handle. She invites visitors to call her about coming out to see Tatanka.
“Who wouldn’t want to feed him?” she asked. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”