Bison breeding guide available for beginners

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By Jennifer Whitlock
Field editor

Although they once roamed the plains and prairies of the central United States by the thousands, bison were not a common sight for some time. But as ranchers seek to diversify their farming activities, many are realizing that bison can play a role.

Now a “Bison 101” guide is available to help experienced and novice cattle ranchers. It is the fruit of a collaboration between the South Dakota State University Center of Excellence for Bison Studies and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

“The purpose of our collaboration has really helped produce good extension resources for people who currently run a bison operation or are interested in starting their own bison herd. Over the past two decades, we’ve really seen the number of individuals, as well as operations, who harvest bison really increase, ”said Chase Brooks, Collin County Extension Officer and co-author of the publication. “Bison farming is still relatively new to the animal production scene, and we want to get the same high quality resources into the hands of bison producers that we see in many other types of animal production systems. “

Fencing requirements, herd health considerations, grazing habits, forage requirements and stocking rates are just a few of the topics covered in Getting started with bison farming.

Brooks said it is a resource for new landowners and ranchers, with advice for experienced ranchers looking to make the transition.

Despite their similarities, cattle and bison have some major differences. Brooks pointed out that cattle have been domesticated much longer than bison and are naturally more docile with humans. Because of their size and more unpredictable nature, bison must be managed differently.

Equipment changes may also be necessary. Cattle handling chutes may be undersized for bison work. And a perfectly usable four-strand fence that keeps cattle from roaming for years can be nothing more than a temporary slowdown for bison.

However, none of this should deter future bison ranchers. Going from raising cattle or any other cattle to bison simply requires a mental shift and revisiting an operation with a new look, Brooks noted.

“Bison evolved with the Native American prairies, so the way they graze and use these grasses is different from that of cattle and may be more of a square peg in a square hole from a conservation standpoint. That’s not to say livestock can’t or don’t match conservation plans, ”he told the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “There are a lot of good farms that use cattle grazing. And there are many ways that people could mismanage bison grazing. But overall, the profitability of bison farming is attractive, and it brings back some of those native bison herds that roamed the Great Plains. So I think he has a wide appeal.

Click here to get your copy of Getting started with bison farming.


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