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Don Williams, president of the National Buffalo Museum board, attempts to bottle feed Rosebud, a bison twin calf that was rejected by its mother, on May 23, 2017 John M. Steiner / Forum News Service

Bison calf rejected by its mother raised at National Buffalo Museum

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Volunteers from the National Buffalo Museum are giving a 3-week-old bison calf a chance at life, according to Don Williams, president of the museum board and a volunteer feeding Rosebud.

The name Rosebud started with Williams calling the calf his "buddy," which was expanded by the staff of the National Buffalo Museum to Rosebud.

"She's doing good," he said, after Rosebud had consumed two quarts of warm milk replacer from a bottle Tuesday morning, May 23. "She is fine now."

Rosebud, a heifer, was smaller than its twin, a bull calf, when they were born on May 5. The instincts of a bison cow are to concentrate its efforts on raising just one calf, Williams said.

"The mother rejected her," he said. "It was the natural thing for it to do. They almost always reject one."

Jim Matheson, assistant director for the National Bison Association, said instances of twin bison calves are relatively rare.

"Typically, we hear about a few cases every year," he said. "It depends on the condition of the cows. Twins are a sign of good nutrition."

Most bison cows that give birth to twins reject one of the calves, Matheson said.

"Occasionally you hear where the cow takes on both," he said. "That doesn't happen very often."

Williams said Rosebud was weak even when first discovered within a few hours of birth.

"She's a survivor," he said. "She tried to keep up with the herd but she was so weak. She'd take 10 or 15 steps and then have to lay down."

Even in a weakened state, Rosebud was "hard to catch," but Williams said they managed to get her into a corral where she could be fed milk replacer meant for cows. The milk replacer included colostrum to provide immunity from disease the calf would have normally received from its mother's milk.

"The first couple of feedings are the most important," Williams said. "We had to get the colostrum in her."

Since then, Rosebud has been bottle fed three or four times a day and currently consumes about two quarts of milk at each feeding before giving a "little grunt" when she is full.

"She's doing real well," Williams said. "She's gained a lot of weight already. We want to get her on some grain and roughage soon. More than just a liquid diet."

Rosebud will transition to a solid diet over the next three to four months, he said. Then she will be returned to the herd to live a normal bison life.

"The intent is to allow the bison (Rosebud) a chance to survive," said Ilana Xinos, executive director of the National Buffalo Museum, on the current bottle-feeding efforts. "Then we can integrate her into the herd."

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