In an effort to thin the herd and keep it healthy during the tough winter months, Custer State Park sold more than 250 buffalo Saturday during its annual auction.
It's a bigger year for the sale than the park has had in recent years, and that's largely due to the paralyzing drought that swept KOTA Territory.
"We're very cognizant of the fact of how many buffalo we have and the rangeland that we have," said Craig Pugsley, visitor services coordinator for the park.
He said that's why the winter herd this year will be smaller than they like.
"About 950 would be our normal number," said Pugsley, "but due to the drought that we experienced again this year, we're actually selling a few more and keeping a few less, so we'll be down to about 850 over the winter."
That's after Saturday's sell-off in the 47th annual auction of about 256 animals.
"Like a ranching operation," Pugsley said, "you have to do what you need to do to maintain the health of the herd and the health of the rangeland conditions."
That same mentality actually drove new buyers to the auction this year.
"We bought range-fed beef before and we really enjoyed it," said Newcastle resident and first-time buyer Cary Voss.
After a summer without rain, Voss said they simply couldn't get the beef anymore.
"The people we ... had been buying range-fed beef from did go out of the market this year," he said, "because of the drought."
So Voss went to Custer to buy a buffalo at a price that amounts to roughly $4.50 to $5 dollars a pound.
"We think we got a good, average price for a buffalo," he said.
Those average prices, coupled with the bump in numbers, pushed the sale far above last year's total.
The auction raked in $405,370, compared to $319,225 a year ago.
"It's one of the primary revenue sources that helps maintain the South Dakota state parks system," Pugsley said.
Along with the buffalo, the park also sold 17 burros to about a hundred registered buyers from as far away as Pennsylvania.