The content in this collection is available only to Washington University in St. Louis users per the request of the Office of Undergraduate Research. If you have questions, please contact .

Document Type

Feature Article

Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2008

Publication Title

Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD 3(2)


Peer Editor: Shweta Murthi; Faculty Mentor: Richard Krueger

This study examines how the choices that private bison ranchers make influence the confined bison’s trajectory of becoming a more domesticated animal. The framework for the study is ethno-archaeo- logical: contemporary material collected during the research was interpreted alongside archaeological and biological literature on the process of domestication in mammals and on the bison’s recorded past. The research consists of a series of surveys taken on privately owned bison farms in Maine, Massachusetts and Missouri. Formal interviews with the private herd ranchers, in addition to many casual discussions, contributed to the data. Analysis of bison behavior, the environment which the bison inhabit, and the interactions between the ranchers and the bison were investigated through direct observation and photography. It appears that bison on private ranches are in the process of becoming domesticated. However, since ranchers make diverse (and at times drastically different) decisions regarding human interaction, diet, artificial selection by controlled breeding, and the social structure of the herds etc., it is apparent that the various popu- lations of confined bison are at different degrees in the domesticating process. Bison ranchers are motivated by many factors including health concerns, sustainable ecology issues, and a desire for symbolism of the American West. These issues contribute to the variety of environments in which bison are raised. The majority of rancher decisions are inten- tionally made to create a more docile and meat-producing bison.

From the Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD, Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2008. Published by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Henry Biggs, Director of Undergraduate Research and Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Joy Zalis Kiefer, Undergraduate Research Coordinator, Co-editor, and Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Kristin Sobotka, Editor.


Copyright: All work is copyrighted by the authors and permission to use this work must be granted. The Office of Undergraduate Research can assist in contacting an author.

Off-campus Download