For the bison: A day at Old Man on His Back

Bison, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by NCC)

Bison, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by NCC)

July 25, 2017 | by Kylie Garchinski

Upon waking up, I look out the window of the interpretive centre at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB) in Saskatchewan. I watch the bursting sunrise stretch across the horizon, with not a tree or building to block the view. Sometimes the bison are up close to the corrals, and if I’m lucky enough not to spook them, I might watch them graze as I eat my breakfast inside.

In 2014, the alternate breakfast activity was watching the five red fox kits play by the big red barn. Today, encircling me is a chorus of too many birds to count, and my brain struggles to identify fewer than I dare to admit.

As a natural area manager for OMB, I’ve been privy to many of the sights and sounds of the ranch, and this day was no different.

Red fox kits (Photo by NCC)

Red fox kits (Photo by NCC)

After breakfast I help my dog, Wrangler, into the back of the John Deere gator and we are off to check fences. Over the course of the day, my cheeks slowly become wind-burned. Nothing is more humbling than the prairie wind; for those of you who joined us at OMB’s very windy 20th anniversary last summer, you know what I am talking about. On a less windy day, I would have grabbed one of my horses for this job, and Wrangler would have run alongside.

By the end of the day, we are beat. It’s time to BBQ some supper and watch the sun set. The only thing that trumps an OMB sunrise is an OMB sunset. The colours deepen and the view from the interpretive centre is perfect: the barn and my horses.

Old Man on His Back rolling prairie, Saskatchewan (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj)

Old Man on His Back rolling prairie, Saskatchewan (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj)

Being in the middle of this vast prairie, or as some would call it, the middle of nowhere, allows you time to sort through your thoughts. Sometimes our lives become so busy that we forget what the sound of nothing sounds like. We forget to spend time watching the fox kits play up by the barn, or watching the sunset.

By this point, you might be wondering how I landed this sweet gig. In 2014, during my first interview with NCC for a summer intern position, Dale Gross (former director of conservation for NCC in Saskatchewan) asked me why I wanted to work for NCC. I shamelessly replied, “I am obsessed with bison.”

I have always been amazed by bison. When I was young, I told my dad more than once that I was getting a bison calf to bottle raise, to which he usually replied, "Oh no, you're not!" I think the fact that my thick-skinned, invincible farmer dad thought that these animals were so intimidating made them even more intriguing to me. Well, I never got my bison calf, so I then moved on to the idea that I would just marry a bison rancher. Well, that idea hasn't panned out for me either.

Plains bison calves, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Don Getty)

Plains bison calves, Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Don Getty)

My favourite memory in my short bison-focused career is from NCC’s annual bison round-up last December. This was my first round-up with NCC, and somehow I was dubbed "the boss." The main objective was to wean the calves from the bison cows. On that day, and every day, I am grateful for our patrons at OMB and my awesome colleagues who have been through this many times before.

This summer, I’m planning to attend the international bison conference in Montana, along with my colleague Matthew Braun. I don't really think Matt knows what he's gotten himself into by attending this conference with me; I am totally going to bison-nerd out.

I hope by now you are itching to get out to Old Man on His Back Ranch and see all that I have depicted. Although the winters are tough, I look forward to the warm summer days, when the view from my office window is of my beloved bison.

Old Man on His Back is one of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s properties featured in Nature Destinations, a program that invites you to take a journey through some of the greatest examples of our country’s natural areas and to connect with nature. Visit

Kylie Garchinski

About the Author

Kylie Garchinski loves the parts of the job that put her in direct contact with animals, whether that’s the bighorn sheep capture she did in college or monitoring bison for NCC.

Read more about Kylie Garchinski.

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