The buffalo family

Rozells call month-old bison one of their own

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— Bigfoot sightings are everyday occurrences in one corner of northwestern Colorado.

The hairy beast roams a parcel of pasture high above Roy and Donna Rozell's house.

Bigfoot, at 14, is the oldest bison in the herd at Middle Creek Ranch. The animal's calm demeanor, however, betrays his name. He prefers solitude to grazing with the rest of the herd.

Roy and Donna Rozell often visit their furry charge as they go about their daily routine of managing the ranch.

With a bucket full of treats in the backseat of their vehicle, they drive through acres of pasture, stopping periodically to beckon the animals with the tasty pellets.

The buffalo waste no time responding. The animals munch on the pellets where they fall, just yards from the vehicle. One female buffalo will eat out of Roy Rozell's hand.

The up close and personal nature of the ranch manager's job description demands the couple holds a healthy amount of respect for the animals.

Every ranch hand has a story of a close call with buffalo, Donna Rozell said.

The couple arrived at Middle Creek Ranch in the early 1990s. The owners, who live in Minneapolis, decided at the time to involve their ranch in the bison industry.

What started as a small operation with just a few animals eventually grew into a thriving herd of bulls, heifers and yearlings.

The herd now numbers about 200 bison, a figure that satisfies the couple. After years of breeding, they feel the herd has reached a manageable size.

"We've got it where we want it," Roy Rozell said.

Calving season, which ran from April to May, yielded a large crop of calves. The young buffalo will stay at their mothers' side until they are yearlings.

One calf has made herself at home in the front yard of the Rozells' house.

Annabelle was born a twin, and to ensure her well-being and survival, the family removed her from the herd. Today the 1-month-old buffalo considers herself one of the family, Donna Rozell said.

"She thinks she's a person," she said.

Her bright pink halter bobs as she darts about the yard. The couple's daughters, Tia and Shiloh, named the feisty calf.

Annabelle will eventually go back to the herd, but for now she enjoys her temporary home away from the buffalo and her playmates.

Roy and Donna Rozell encourage people to visit Middle Creek Ranch. The ranch offers packaged buffalo meat in all sorts of quantities and sizes.

People are sometimes curious about the source of their purchase, he said, and a visit to the ranch gives them an idea of where their meat is coming from. All of the ranch's meat is USDA inspected.

Rozell said he was interested in expanding the ranch's market by incorporating new customers, such as restaurants that might want to purchase buffalo meat.

The Rozells also hope the ranch can serve as an educational tool for schoolchildren and other interested groups.

Now the animals are shedding the remainder of their winter coats. The ranch recycles used street sweeper brushes from the city of Steamboat Springs. The brushes are placed atop metal poles dug deep into the ground, and the animals use them as super-sized scratching posts.

The animals and the land that Roy and Donna Rozell fell in love many years ago still charms them today.

"We wouldn't want to be anyplace else," Roy Rozell said.

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