Does Ted Turner have a VERY large fence?
January 27, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

How does Ted Turner keep his buffalo herds on his land? Does he fence the whole thing??

I watched Ted Turner's buffalo herd roaming on a segment of the Martha Stewart show and it made me wonder. Does he fence the whole bazillion acres or is there some other method I don't know about?
posted by cda to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you go on a drive through Montana and Wyoming, you pass a lot of "fences" that are simply a piece of wood about the size of a yard stick hammered into the ground every 20 or so feet, with one or two rows of barbed wire between them. Since the fences don't seem particularly substantial, my guess is that they're primarily boundary markers, and that the buffalo stay in a more centralized area.

If one should wander off, all the ranchers have their own personal branding symbol, so there's no confusion about which buffalo belongs to whom.
posted by phunniemee at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2010

Well I can't speak for Ted Turner, but I visited some relatives of mine in Montana who have a 100 square mile ranch and all of their pastures were fenced in by wire or barb wire fence. Its dirt cheap compared to other fences, all you need is the wire, some rough posts, a gas powered post hole digger, and some staples. Three people who know what they are doing and a truck and put up quite a bit of fence in one day.
posted by token-ring at 11:58 AM on January 27, 2010

... but he has 52,000 buffalo. I've known people who have 2 or 3 buffalo, but how do you keep a herd of 52,000 from just barreling right over to North Dakota?
posted by cda at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2010

A buffalo farm I visited up in NH (probably 30-60 head of bison) used electric fencing. I can't personally think of any method other than fences (electric or otherwise) to keep buffalo from roaming-- they tend to be much less sedentary than cattle.
posted by The White Hat at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2010

I've driven through the area in the past and there are boundary fences in some areas and of course natural boundaries. All roads have cattle grates at the entrance. But, basically the buffalo he raises are not 100% wild. They know where home is and seeing that they are also social animals, they don't wander off on their own - they move as a herd. All you need to do is to put tracking beacons on a few and you can monitor them at will. Surprisingly, with all the land they have to roam, both times I saw the herd, they were either on the road or near it.
posted by JJ86 at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

The answer is yes.
posted by Roach at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2010

Interesting read: here
The Vermijo Park Ranch is located along the Colorado border in northern New Mexico. From the road it may seem like just another traditional ranch. Inside the fences however, it is vastly different. Starting with the fences for instance. When Turner bought the ranch, one of the first things he and his land managers did was take down hundred of miles of fence. Turner raises Buffalo on most of his ranches and feels they should roam the property as they would have before they were hunted almost to extinction.
So sounds like one outer fence, and the buffalo have the run of the property.
posted by Roger Dodger at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I once had a neighbor who had a herd of 10 - 12 bison, he kept them on 140 acres all fenced with a six foot tall multi strand electric fence. He said the fence was just a reminder for the beasts, a mere suggestion, since nothing short of the Berlin Wall would stop 'em.
They never roamed in the 12 years he had them, but I never knew why.
posted by Floydd at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2010

He keeps his bison fenced in.
Phillips said Turner's ranches are a reflection of his vision of the West.

"When he first bought the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, the idea was to take down all the interior fences and let the bison run free," Phillips said. "We kept the outer fences because we believe fences make good neighbors."

But it didn't take long to realize that when bison cross a stream, their considerable weight tears things up.

So he restored about half of the interior fences to protect the streams.
Also, Turner keeps multiple bison herds scattered across several ranches for a total of ~50K animals so it's not like all of them are going to mass an assault on N. Dakota. Here's an old article from the High Country News describing Turner's efforts to keep one herd on its range:
"The biggest bison entrepreneur, Ted Turner, runs about 15,000 bison on his ranches in Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico, including a herd of about 3,000 on a single 100,000-acre pasture on his Flying D Ranch near Bozeman. The big pasture used to be four smaller pastures, but the bison kept trashing the fences. Finally, the ranch removed the fences between the pieces of habitat and raised the exterior fence to 57 inches high with four electrified strands."
posted by jamaro at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

From here:
During my early years of ranch ownership, my enthusiasm did lead me to make some mistakes. For example, the Flying D had hundreds of miles of barbed wire fencing and I had every bit of it removed, thinking this would allow the bison to roam free on about eighty thousand acres. I learned that when you do this, the animals tend to overgraze certain areas and undergraze others, and we had to bring back some limited fencing — not barbwire, I might add.
posted by bluefly at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2010

Seconding that buffalo herds are fenced in, but that requires a little cooperation of the buffalo. We have bison herds that get out on a regular basis. It's on Turner's shoulders to make sure the herd doesn't get out -- but the herd probably doesn't wander unsupervised, though; ranch hands on horses or 4-wheelers probably help keep the herd away from neighboring lands.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:50 PM on January 27, 2010

Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer. I think I have the picture now.
posted by cda at 5:13 PM on January 27, 2010

From a friend of mine who used to work with the Turners:

"Well, Ted's two favorite songs are "Home on the Range" and "Don't Fence Me In" if that says anything. He owns four ranches just in Montana alone, the largest one being about 260,000 acres with around 5,000 head of buffalo. This ranch also has about 10 Arabian horses that roam free. There's no shortage of other wildlife either - moose, elk, wolves and the like. On that whole ranch, I never saw anything that came even close to resembling a sturdy fence. In some spots, you'd see fence posts every 20 feet or so with a "private property" sign and some wire connecting them - definitely not barbed wire and definitely nothing designed to keep animals in or out. Going anywhere on the ranch, whether it was on horseback, in a Land Rover or on a four-wheeler, you just had to get comfortable with encountering animals of all sorts. I remember sitting in a truck with an old cowboy on staff for 2 hours one day because a golden eagle was hanging out on the road. On that ranch, animals had the right of way. Period. Having said all that, Ted still has a full staff of biologists who study the health and number of trout in his streams. He's got others who are paid to know where every bison in his herd is roaming. But they are rarely (if EVER) told where to go.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2010

cda: " do you keep a herd of 52,000 from just barreling right over to North Dakota?"

Our bison have no interest in anything on that side of the border. They like it just fine here in Montana.
posted by davidmsc at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2010

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