Home on the range has a whole new meaning for some South Dakota bison.
After 1,500 miles of drive time and a five-hour flight halfway across the Pacific Ocean, four young bison recently landed at their new digs — in Hawaii.
On March 8, two females and two bulls from Jim Lutter’s Buffalo County Bison ranch were loaded on a freight plane in Los Angeles and shipped to Hanalei Bison Ranch on Kauai. The island was devastated by flash floods in April 2018, during which a nearby river rose 8 feet and spilled over into the 180-acre ranch, according to a post on Hanalei Bison Ranch’s Facebook page. While most of the bison survived, others were washed out to sea and died. Looking to replenish its herd, the ranch connected with Lutter.
“They were referred to us by an individual, and we just returned the phone call and didn’t know where it was going to go,” he said. “We talked to them and they liked what we had.”
Lutter lives near Gann Valley, which is about a half-hour south of Miller. He has shipped bison to Illinois, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska. But until recently, he didn’t even know the animals lived in Hawaii.
“You’re just not aware that all this stuff goes on. It was really interesting,” he said.
South Dakota to Hawaii is a lengthy trip regardless of the passenger, but Lutter’s ranch, with Wendell Peden’s help, has built up a reputation for good genes. Peden is a veterinarian who’s worked with Lutter in the past.
“They wanted to repopulate and get their numbers going,” Lutter said. “And if they were going to do that, they wanted to try to improve their genetics at the same.”
While the main objective at the ranch is meat production, Lutter said he has been perfecting his herd since Day 1. He’s worked for years with James Derr, a professor of veterinary pathobiology at Texas A&M, to obtain the most pure lineage possible.
“With his help, we have added to and selected different baselines for our breeding,” Lutter said. “We’ve been testing well over 20 years, which is probably more than anybody (in the state) as far as the genetic makeup of these animals goes.”
The bison had to be the right age — not too young, not too old — and as close to 500 pounds as possible in order to be flown. That’s the best weight for survival on the trip, according to Lutter. They also had to undergo myriad tests and meet requirements to assure their health and prepare them for the flight.
Upon arrival, the animals had to be quarantined and monitored for 60 days. If all goes well, they’ll be turned loose in early May. Lutter hopes to make the trip to lend a hand when that time comes. Until then, he rests easy knowing the animals are being well cared for at Hanalei Bison Ranch.
“I was pretty reluctant, like, ‘Do I even want to deal with this deal?’” he said of the process. “(But) they’re solid people. The place, the way they have it set up and what they’re doing, it’s a solid operation. I can’t fault anything.”