No, that wasn’t a huge prairie dog sticking his head out of a hole in the prairie of Custer State Park (CSP) Monday evening, Aug. 19. It was a buffalo bull calf and it took a team of rescuers several minutes and the aid of a couple of shovels to dig the little fellow out.
“He had himself wedged in there pretty tight,” said CSP herd manager Chad Kremer of the calf that was discovered by tour Jeep drivers shortly before sundown.
Kremer, who was out for dinner to celebrate his wife’s birthday, got a call about the situation from his son who had taken the call at home from the Jeep driver.
After contacting the driver, Kremer received pictures of the stuck critter and determined, “He’s in there quite a ways.”
By the time Kremer and the rest of his party had arrived at the scene, the sun had gone down, but they soon found the calf in the hole with his mother standing nearby.
After chasing the cow off to a safe distance, Kremer jumped out of his vehicle and tried pulling on the calf.
“I tell you, that little bugger, he was stuck,” said Kremer. “He actually had fallen straight down into the hole and had one leg kind of straight down the hole and the other was caught, which is what I suspected. He was really stuck in there.
Kremer later dubbed the rescue “Operation Badger Hole,” but says it could have also been a large prairie dog hole, measuring about 20 inches across at the surface and then tapering down.
Kremer says the calf let out a few grunts of protest when the pulling began, which caused his mama to come running back. He says he had to jump back into the safety of his vehicle several times until the cow could be driven off to a safer distance of 40 to 50 yards.
Determining that the calf would have to be dug out of his predicament, Kremer called for shovels. When more help arrived, a temporary corral was formed around the critter to help keep the mother away as rescuers dug a couple of feet into the prairie sod to release the prisoner.
Kremer says the darkness was an advantage in the extrication, as the vehicles’ headlights may have blinded the mother a bit to keep her at a distance.
Although Kremer estimates the calf to have been less than a week old, he says he was a big one, perhaps tipping the scales at 65 to 75 pounds.
“In the 18 years I’ve been here, this is the first time I’ve had this one come up,” said Kremer.
However, he says last year he had to rescue a newborn buffalo out of a creek bed at Four Mile Creek.
In that case, a park visitor witnessed the birth of a calf who plopped onto the ground, bounced and then fell into the creek. By the time Kremer arrived, the calf had managed to get out of the water, but was still down over a four to five foot embankment.
He had to keep the cow at bay while working to get the calf out of the creek bed so it could be reunited with its mother and nurse for the first time.
There does seem to be a trend of calves getting stuck in holes, according to Kremer, who says he heard of another producer last season who had a buffalo give birth, dropping the unfortunate calf directly into a badger hole.
Buffalo producers have to be ready for anything, for, as Kremer says, “You never know what the next call’s gonna bring!”