Wild buffalo in the U.S. once numbered in the tens of millions; their near-extinction left their number under a thousand. Public and private breeding programs have restored the current total to roughly 160,000 in the United States. The Fermilab herd has about 45; our pasture can support up to 70. When the herd gets too big, the Laboratory holds a buffalo auction and an occasional large meeting. Besides grazing, Fermilab's buffalo eat grain and hay baled on the Laboratory site. Gestation takes nine months, and most calves are born in early May. The time of the conference will be good for viewing the young buffs.
Although they look placid, buffalo have the undomesticated personality of the wild. Like astrophysicists, they have been described as "cantankerous" by those who have tried to herd them. A double fence around the Fermilab pasture protects the buffalo and the public from each other. Advice from an experienced hand: "Don't turn your back on a buffalo."
Our buffalo herd carries on a tradition begun by Robert Wilson, the Laboratory's first director, to recognize and strengthen Fermilab's connection to our prairie heritage. Wilson brought the first American bison, a bull and four cows, to Fermilab in 1969; and in 1971 the Illinois Department of Conservation gave us 21 more. Today's herd are descendents of those first animals.