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Animal Care

From the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Ally Elliott Reports

Students at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine have access to all kinds of internships, externships and research experiences during their four years of school. This summer, several students are sharing some of what they're doing and learning in real time.

Ally Elliott on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota
Ally Elliott is a third-year, food animal-focused veterinary student at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hi, my name is Ally Elliott, and I’m a third-year vet student with a food animal focus. Last year I was presented with an opportunity and a grant for four years from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Sinte Gleska University to aid in herd health management practices and veterinary consulting for their bison herd. 

Before veterinary school, I worked at Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi (“bringing the family back together” in Lakota) as a horse handler for their Lakota equine therapy program in which they assist children and families in the mental health field on the reservation. I’m so grateful for the friends and family I have made out here throughout the years who have been kind enough to share their cultural wisdom and kindness with me. Living on the Rosebud Reservation and learning the culture and way of life of the Lakota have been some of the most valuable experiences of my life, and I use these lessons and stories in my day to day life and practice. 

The bison project is run by Shawn Bordeaux, a South Dakota state senator, Steve Her Many Horses and Dave Blue Thunder. Since last summer, we have been able to downsize the bison herd to a more manageable population for the land as well as vaccinate, deworm, tag and create a full inventory for both our north and south pastures. I was also fortunate enough to have a good friend of mine and teacher, Hillary Sherwood, bring out her student, Kaden Leader Charge, to teach him alongside us. I’m always so grateful to have these experiences where I can give back and share the knowledge that has been passed down to me. Kaden was super excited and really passionate as well as a great helper in the whole process. I see him being very successful in the animal world one day!

Working the herd this past November has aided us in becoming a more sustainable and healthy herd, and the goal is to create a productive cow calf operation that is self-sufficient as well as coincides with the cultural aspects of the way the Lakota honor the bison. Bison are an integral part of Lakota history and culture. Many values and ways of life stem from the way of the bison. They are honored and revered, and before harvesting and working the herd we honor them with a prayer and offer tobacco to give back to the land and thank the bison for all that they provide for us.

During a recent week on the reservation, I was able to work with Dr. Tom Covey to aid in breeding soundness exams on another prominent bison herd here. We also had a bison calf born with knuckling fetlocks in our own pasture this week. We loaded him up in the truck and drove him 40 miles east to the clinic. When we found him in the pasture, he was unable to stand and was very dehydrated. His heart and respiration rates were very elevated, but this was also exacerbated due to the stress of the drive and handling. 

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the clinic and got an IV in him, he could not hold on any longer. We named him Hoksila “boy” before he passed as this would give him a name in his life thereafter. After he passed, we analyzed what could have happened. We suspect he tried to nurse for a day or two as his fetlocks had no fur and were worn down to the skin from his attempting to stand and walk. After a few days, he just did not have the energy to continue nursing, which led to his not having enough nutrients. He became extremely dehydrated and his blood pressure plummeted. We took him back to the pasture and buried him, said a prayer and gave tobacco for his life and to honor him.

Currently, I am working on procuring a pasture and land analysis for the north and south pastures. With this information, we can partition the land and set up a rotational grazing program to better care for the land and the animals living on it. We are meeting with a USDA liaison because there is a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to aid us in having a rangeland specialist come out. This program is offered only to three tribes and can help us with money and with developing better conservation practices. These practices are important and significant not only for herd health management but culturally as well. 

I also was able to assist with testing out new bucking horses for a friend of mine. They are stock contractors and run their bucking stock called Yellow Hawk Stock Contractors. The bucking horses have been bred specifically for this purpose, and their genetic lineage is pretty prominent in the rodeo world. They supply their stock to Cheyenne Frontier Days, and some of their stock have made it to the Indian National Finals Rodeo.