Of the many incredible animals in the United States few stand up in comparison to the mighty American bison.
When Europeans settled in the Americas there were more than 30 million bison spread from Canada to Mexico. There were herds so vast that they covered the horizon and each animal was composed of such size that it is no wonder that the Native Americans viewed them as one of the most sacred of animals, and why in modern times there was an effort to make them the national mammal. Today, there are few wild bison left and most are confined to zoos and private ranches.
Young bison are difficult to care for, and are extremely intelligent, as most ranchers will attest. They are emotionally needy, attach easily, and can have sensitive internal systems. They stress readily and have a strong herd mentality which makes them very social. Unlike many large farmed animals, bison will not care for multiple young at a time, usually because their milk production is rarely enough to provide for more than one. These left-over twin births can be quite difficult to raise without the assistance of the natural mother. One such case of this was orphaned young Greta.
Greta was born on the Bitterroot Bison Ranch and her mother decided to pick her brother to care for instead of her. Greta is what is called a freemartin female. This is a perplexing genetic abnormality that occurs in mixed-sex births where a set of twins are born, one being female and one being male. This “freemartin birth” often leaves the female born sterile. It is almost always the case in these such twin births for many cattle species, including bison.
Because of the difficulty that comes with raising an individual baby bison, Greta needed special help. She was going to be cared for by a local, Jaysen McCleary, who was out of town. He posted on Facebook for temporary help and got in contact with a friend who could care for Greta until he returned. Greta was then taken on by Nichole Glase, Jaysen’s friend who is a Plains local, when the young bison was only three days old.
Greta needs to eat every four hours without skipping a beat and, because bison are far more like sheep internally than they are cows, Greta even needs lambs’ milk formula instead of cattle formula to survive. At three days old Greta was already around 50 pounds. Bison are born large and grow very fast, so Greta more than doubled her food intake within the first two weeks.
Since bison need social groups, and because they are such large animals, they need to live in vast areas. Unfortunately, Nichole was raising Greta in a small fenced in area in her backyard and Greta needed more.
Enter the Bela Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization located outside of Victor, Montana, operated by McCleary. Bela Rescue is already home to a slowly growing herd of 6 bison, and a few dogs. They specialize in legal defense for unconstitutional encroachment on owners and their beloved pets, as well as providing abandoned and special needs animals with housing and/or assistance.
Now, Greta has the room to grow, and the expertise to keep her healthy.
For those who wish to get involved, or donate to help Greta, or any of the other animals at the rescue ranch, the website is belarescue.org. They can also be found on Facebook at Bela Animal Legal Defense and Rescue.