WANTED in TEXAS: More bison and more bison ranchers
By DONNIS BAGGETT
Lucky B Bison
It’s a common scenario for a Texas bison rancher.
“You raise buffalo? How interesting!” There’s a thoughtful pause, then a follow-up question. Or more often than not, several:
“Is it buffalo or bison?”
Well, it’s actually bison. But the animals don’t mind if you call them buffalo. We don’t, either.
“But what do you do with them?”
We sell breeding stock and meat animals — pretty much like a domestic livestock operation.
“Is the meat good?”
Delicious. Not only is it tasty, but it’s low in fat, cholesterol and calories. Think of it as guilt-free red meat.
“But aren’t bison endangered?”
Quite the contrary. Thanks to more than a century of restoration efforts by ranchers and other conservationists, plains bison have made a remarkable comeback.
“Is there much of a market for bison?”
You bet. We can’t meet the demand here in Texas.
If the questioner is a fellow owner of rangeland, that usually gets his full attention. The conversation turns to ranch management issues:
“Don’t you have trouble keeping them at home? Don’t you need expensive, heavy-duty fences?”
Nope. A good fence is important, of course, but you don’t need anything extravagant. A five- or five-and-a-half-foot-high combination of field fence mesh topped with two strands of barbed wire is plenty for a buffalo pasture.
If the fence is good and their food, water and companionship needs are met — and if they’re not being chased around the pasture — bison are no tougher to keep at home than cattle are. And well-settled animals that are fed regularly will meet your pickup at the gate when they see you coming.
“What about prices?”
A weanling heifer calf is worth $1,300 or more in today’s market. A two-year-old bull headed to the feedyard will bring more than $2 per pound live weight. If he’s had good grazing, he should weigh around 700 pounds. A higher-quality breeding bull of the same age will bring at least $2,500, but often sell for much more.
“What do buffalo need to eat?”
Bison evolved eating low-quality forage in drought-prone regions, so they’re not too finicky. If they have decent grass and a little mineral supplementation, they usually do very well. They’ll do even better if you supplement them with a little energy or protein when range conditions dictate.
“Do bison have any special health management needs?”
Bison are more susceptible to internal parasites than beef cattle. In humid areas, buffalo should be wormed several times a year. On our Central Texas operation, we worm once a year with an injectable wormer, then two or three times with a feed-based wormer.
“What kind of vaccination regimen should you follow?”
Vaccine protocols are pretty much identical to those used in beef herds. You should check with a veterinarian in your area for specifics.
“Are they hard to handle when you work them?”
Not if you use low-stress handling techniques and you have working facilities designed with that in mind. The best thing to do is to take your time and let the buffalo do the same. The worst thing to do is play cowboy. Ropes, cattle prods and yippee-ti-yays are best left in the pickup.
“Do bison have any calving problems?”
Almost never. It’s so rare that you can mark that off your worry list.
“So, do you enjoy raising buffalo?”
Immensely. Few things are more gratifying than watching the sun set over your buffalo herd. Or watching the animals thunder up to the truck for some range cubes. Or watching a newborn burnt-orange baby nuzzling up to its mother.
“Can you sell me some heifers?”
Well, we’re sold out for this year. Our little girls were spoken for before they hit the ground. But we’ll be glad to contact our colleagues in the Texas Bison Association and see if we can find you some.
“How can I get more information on raising bison?”
Join the Texas Bison Association. You can get details at www.texasbison.org. TBA members are happy to help newcomers, and twice a year we have conferences that are chock-full of learning opportunities. Also, join the National Bison Association. New NBA members get a free bison producer’s handbook and can take online courses on bison management. You can learn more about the NBA at www.bisoncentral.com.
We’re glad you’re interested, and we hope you’ll get involved. We need more bison in Texas — and more bison ranchers.