Bison Herd

The bison herd serves three primary purposes: education, species conservation, and ecological value. The year 2021 marked the herd’s 48th year at the Nature Center. “The bison are a large part of our interpretive program where the herd acts as a living visual aid for people to learn about animal adaptations, land management programs, prairie ecology and more,” said Rob Denkhaus, FWNC&R manager. “Bison are a keystone native species for grassland ecosystems of North America and our herd is used to assist with the land management of the 210 acres of pasture where they reside.” While the City of Fort Worth owns the Nature Center, the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center owns the bison herd and provide feed, hay and veterinary services. “The herd provides the public an opportunity to see one of North America’s grandest native creatures up close,” said Rick Shepherd, former president of the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. “The Friends cherishes the buffalo for its historic importance to the prairies and numerous plains Indian tribes, which depended upon them for their ways of life.”

Bison Facts

  • The herd started with a donation of three bison from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in 1973.
  • The Refuge’s first bison calf, a heifer, was born on May 21, 1974.
  • Over 68 percent of the Nature Center’s calves are born in April and May.
  • The bison range consists of five pastures totaling 210 acres.
  • The permanent herd consists of one adult bull, 13 cows, and any calves and yearlings from previous years.


The FWNC&R bison herd serves many purposes:

  • RECREATION: Everyone likes to see the bison and the Refuge bison herd may be the only bison that many people ever see up close.
  • KEYSTONE SPECIES: Bison are what is known as a “keystone species” meaning that their presence in an area plays an important role in the ecology of the land and the other species present. Animals like prairie dogs benefit from bison grazing and wallowing activities.
  • RESEARCH: The FWNC&R partners with university researchers to conduct studies using the bison herd. These studies help us to better manage the bison and the Refuge.
  • CONSERVATION: Very few publicly accessible bison herds are considered to be genetically pure but the FWNC&R herd is. We are ready to assist with improving the genetics of bison throughout the nation.
  • EDUCATION: Our bison herd provides educational opportunities for many students from kindergarten to college level.

What it takes to maintain a Bison Herd (or Shameless Plug for Your Support)

FEED: The bison herd consumes an average of 19,000 pounds of range cubes each year. Bison require a lower protein content (12 percent) than most range cubes that are sold for cattle or horses so we are particular about the type we feed. Cubes come in 50 lb. bags and sell for an average of $7.50 each (delivered price). We generally order 50 bags each time so that we can fill our rodent proof feed storage bin.

HAY: We are very particular about the hay that is fed to the bison. We choose pure native grass hay because it is healthy for the animals and it doesn’t encourage the introduction of weed seeds on our native prairies. We use round bales because they are more economical and easier to feed than square bales. Round bales cost $40 (delivered) on average when we order an entire truckload (29 bales).

GENETIC TESTING: We are very proud of our genetically pure bison herd and strive to maintain that status. Whenever a new animal is added to the herd through purchase, donation, or birth we have the animal tested. Continually improving testing technology encourages us to test calves even if their parents have tested pure in the past. Testing is conducted by Texas A&M University and results are added to a national registry of bison genetics. Testing costs $45/animal.

VETERINARY SERVICES: Bison are generally very healthy animals but like any captive animal, they still require basic medical care. Our bison receive an annual check-up each October when they are checked for brucellosis and vaccinated for a variety of diseases. In addition, our veterinarian addresses any other health issues. The veterinarian also places microchips in the bison so that they can be permanently identified. On average, veterinary services cost approximately $90.00/animal each year.

bison_robGENERAL MAINTENANCE: Bison are big, rugged animals that can be very hard on fences and gates. Each year, Nature Center Staff has to mend/replace fences and gates, repair water systems and replace items like hayracks. On average, this general maintenance amounts to $4.60/day for materials alone.

MEMBERSHIPS: The Nature Center is a member of both the National Bison Association (NBA) and the Texas Bison Association (TBA). These organizations promote proper management and wise use of bison in the wild and in captivity. Our membership in these organizations provides the Nature Center with the opportunity to interact with bison managers throughout the country as well as access to new bloodlines and outlets for sale of our surplus animals. Membership cost $100-$250/year.

ADDITIONAL PIPE RAIL: Pipe rail is used to make very strong corrals and runways for holding and moving animals. We recycle used pipe and do the work in house but materials alone still cost approximately $9.00/foot. We need to add several hundred feet of pipe rail to make holding and moving animals safer for them and Nature Center Staff.

SPONSOR FOR A DAY: Add it all up, and maintaining the bison herd costs over $8,500.00 annually. That’s about $24.00/day and doesn’t include labor, which is provided by Nature Center Staff and volunteers.

Spending time with people who love nature creates priceless experiences; sharing a mission with them generates exceptional satisfaction. Both are benefits of Friends membership. This award-winning organization is a strategic force in keeping the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge an exciting and innovative place to visit in our fair city.

To preserve, protect, and conserve in perpetuity the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge.

View a gallery of the photos our members have taken!