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Panhandle Passages: Roundup at the Fort

Bison running during Fort Robinson roundup
Bison, with frost on their backs, run during Monday morning’s roundup.

Visitors to Fort Robinson State Park often enjoy catching a view of the animals that roam most of the park’s 22,000 acres. In addition to the wildlife, the bison, longhorn cattle and horses that graze the park’s scenic pastures instantly conjure up images of the region “when the West was wild,” as they say.

I was fortunate this week to be on site when park superintendent Mike Morava and a crew of experienced ranch hands rounded up the bison and longhorns at the park near Crawford.

While not large compared to many cattle and bison operations in the region, the diverse herds of livestock animals serve as a unique feature among the Nebraska State Park system and help give Fort Robinson its Western reputation.

“You want to provide stuff for people to do and see, and these animals do add to it,” Morava said.

Not only are the longhorns used as roping steers in the weekly rodeos that entertain park visitors, they also represent one of a small number of pure herds in the country. They are carefully managed for their genetics.

“You can’t just go buy a bull and throw him in the herd,” Morava said.

The bison serve as good grazers and provide unique table fare for the fort’s restaurant – bison burgers and steaks are popular among the customers.

The horses are used by park visitors on trail rides, and provide a link to the fort’s storied past as a post for the U.S. Cavalry.

Morava said this week’s roundups went about as smoothly as one could hope, each beginning at daybreak and ending early in the afternoon.

For the bison, the team used horses, trucks, four-wheelers and tractors to funnel the animals into and through the sorting facility. After being driven to the holding pen, the animals are coaxed through a series of moving panels to a roundabout hub. Doors from the hub lead them to their destination – sometimes into a chute for vaccination and into a trailer for sale, sometimes back out to pasture. Workers on a catwalk above the bison man the controls out of harm’s way.

Experience and preparation are imperative when handling the bison. Even though they’ve been behind fences, they’ve had little human interaction and “are basically a wild animal,” Morava said. A four-legged creature that weighs up to 2,000 pounds can do a lot of damage if not handled correctly, and the safety of people and the animals is the first concern during such a roundup.

Morava said it would be nice to make the roundups more public, but noted the park doesn’t have the facilities or staff to handle a big crowd.

On Wednesday, riders on horseback drove the longhorns through the rugged terrain at the north end of the acreage to a location closer to the park’s headquarters. The horses, which were rounded up Thursday, will be kept closer to headquarters through rifle deer season.

The production quality is a little rough, but here is a video for those of you wanting to experience some of the sights and sounds of the bison and longhorn roundups.


For those of you interested in buying some of the bison or longhorn cattle, here’s an approximate list of what will be sold at Crawford Livestock on Sunday, Nov. 24. The bison will be sold at 11 a.m. with the longhorns following at noon.

Bison (70-80 head): 40-50 heifer calves, 10-20 bull calves, 2-4 yearling heifers, 2-4 yearling bulls, 2 two-year-old bulls

Longhorns (70-80 head): 14 yearling heifers, 10 aged cows, 20-40 heifer calves, 5-7 bull calves, 20-25 steer calves, 2 aged bulls, 3 fat steers

I wouldn’t mind having a few to roam the back yard, but I doubt Chadron’s city ordinances would allow for it.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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