CUSTER, S.D. — More than 75 bidders traveled to Custer State Park in South Dakota to bring home one or more of the park’s beloved bison during the annual auction.
Hundreds more watched Saturday as park officials auctioned off 256 bison and 17 burros.
The goal of the auction is to thin the park’s herd, which officials say is especially important after a mild winter and dry summer left the grassland parched and at risk for over-grazing. The auction follows September’s buffalo stampede that draws thousands of spectators.
This year, the average price of heifer calves jumped almost $250 over last year’s $904, and mature cows were up almost $75 over last year’s $1,595. The average price of 2-year-old bred heifers, however, dropped about $275 from last year’s $2,740. The average prices for bull calves and 2-year-old bred heifers were also down.
Chad Kraemer, the park’s bison herd manager, said below-average precipitation in Custer State Park also meant more of the park’s animals were on the auction block this year.
“We decided to sell about 40 head of additional animals over what we usually do,” Kraemer said. “It’s a bigger surplus.”
Marielle Graese and her sister Lexi traveled from Rice Lake, Wis., to purchase a trailer full of 2-year-old heifers, 2-year-old bulls and a few mature cows for the family business, NorthStar Bison, which has been buying livestock at the Custer State Park auction for the past 15 years.
Today, Graese’s family runs between 600 and 900 bison in an all-grass-fed operation. They not only manage the herd, but they also process, package and sell the meat, said Graese, who sits on the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association’s board of directors.
Since Custer State Park also runs an entirely grass-fed herd, the park’s bison fit well with NorthStar Bison’s business model, she said.
“We like to say that we take it from birth to plate,” Graese said. “It’s great for the land, great for the animal and great for the people consuming the product.”