The first thing is to make sure the fences are strong and high enough. Unfenced bison tend to go where they want.

“Our fences have to be at least 6 feet tall,” said Mike McDaniel. “A three-year-old buffalo can jump a 5-foot fence flat-footed.”

A few years ago, McDaniel — who runs the Horseshoe Mountain Bison Ranch with his wife, Janie — learned the extent of the animals’ leaping ability in heart-stopping fashion.

“At the corral, I have an alley between holding pens that’s just wide enough for the Gator. I had two cows in the alley and drove the Gator towards them, trying to herd them into the far pen. One turned around to face me and, before I knew it, from a dead standstill, literally jumped over the top of me and the Gator. I was looking up at this thing’s belly and my heart went into my shoes. I couldn’t believe it.”

“I was out here when it happened,” recalled Janie. “When that cow flew over him, Mike lost all his color.”

Sheer size

While caring for a bison herd, most problems aren’t from aggressive animals, but from their sheer size and physical abilities.

“It’s not smart to walk among them, even though I have,” said Mike. “The bigger, older animals can outrun a horse. Most of the time, they aren’t aggressive at all, but they can still hurt you. You may be paying attention to one, and it gets startled by something and pushes by you meaning no malice. But it can hurt you badly anyway — knock you flying — because it’s just so big.”

The McDaniels have run the bison ranch outside Greenbrier, Ark., since the mid-1990s. Currently home to some 70 bison, the ranch has served as the “active retirement” the couple sought when leaving their Vashon Island, Wash., home a decade ago.

“We were familiar with the area. Our daughter lived in Conway, Ark., so we visited every spring to float the Buffalo River and again at Thanksgiving,” said Janie. “We were getting close to retirement and property taxes on the island (a ferry ride outside Seattle) were going up and up. Our daughter had been on us, ‘On a set income, Arkansas is the place to come. Your money will go farthest here.’ She was right.”