An unusual birth took place in a pasture alongside Jeffrey Road last week: a buffalo cow owned by Jerry and Barbara Wood produced her seventh calf, a healthy little female that has been named Poppy. I was able to be there just over 30 minutes after the calf was born, and it is amazing how robust the little calf turned out to be. I have witnessed numerous animal births, including lambs, calves, piglets and foals, but none of them were up and moving about as quickly as the newborn buffalo.
Buffalo are also known as American Bison (Bison bison, zoologically) and most books will tell you that Bison is the more correct term since these lumbering beasts are much more closely related to the European Bison than they are to Asian Water Buffalo or African Cape Buffalo, but there's this fact: the term "buffalo" was used to describe the shaggy, hump-backed mammals of the Great Plains as early as 1625, and the word "bison" isn't documented until 1774, so buffalo can claim historical precedent over bison. Either may acceptably used, however, even though buffalo is the clear favorite of the general populace and bison seems more popular with most biologists.
Whichever name you use, they are magnificent creatures and there is one more in the world with the recent birth of Poppy. Jerry and Barbara acquired one male and one female calf in 2004, and the two buffalo have grown into splendid adults and created seven babies. The Woods keep their buffalo as part of a family menagerie that includes Watusi and Zebu cattle as well as some alpacas.
Poppy, named after our state wildflower the California Poppy, was born about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 6. The mother licked her newborn calf, which was standing only 20 minutes later and was nursing less than eight minutes after standing up on wobbly legs for the first time. Buffalo calves are born a light reddish fawn color and darken as they get older. Buffalo cows make excellent mothers and will nurse a calf for as long as 18 months, sometimes right up until the next calf is born. Their gestation period is about ten months long.
The precociousness of buffalo calves is due to thousands of years of predatory pressure: buffalo lived on the Great Plains and elsewhere and the herds would be trailed by wolf packs or even coyotes, waiting to prey on the old, sick, weak or newborn. Calves that could not get up promptly and follow their mother and the rest of the herd often fell prey to predators.
The buffalo cow at Jerry and Barbara's exhibited the protectiveness typical of mothers, making photography of the newborn a challenge as she continually placed her body between the calf and us. The cow was relatively calm, but she made it clear that she wanted to keep some distance between us and her adorable baby.
Poppy's father also stayed relatively close when we were photographing the baby. Named "Buff," he is a handsome giant with a massive head who stands six feet tall at the shoulder. He periodically rumbled in the low, guttural grunt of a buffalo bull, which sounds more like the deep growl of a lion or tiger than a bovine. Unlike the males of some species, like bears or mountain lions, who often kill their young and are consequently kept away by the mothers, buffalo bulls in the wild will defend cows and calves against wolves, humans or other threats.
One of the most iconic and recognizable symbols of America, especially the American West, buffalo are unique and beautiful animals, and they look right at home in the Tehachapi Mountains. Of course buffalo have no trouble with our relatively mild California winters, and the Wood family now has a playful new buffalo calf to enjoy watching this summer and autumn.
Have a good week.
JON HAMMOND has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.