Raising bison is not much different or difficult than raising cattle. Cattle are domestic animals whereas the majestic bison have been a free and wild part of American history for centuries. Back in the 1890s the bison faced extinction while being slaughtered. However, the remaining bison were nurtured and bred to increase in numbers and many have become privately owned through bison ranching.
The bison, just as cattle need a large pasture of grass for grazing, companionship with other bison and an endless water supply. Spacing of grass for feed should be estimated at 1.5 acres per bison, which is basically the same for cattle. These animals are strong herding animals and if not kept together, a lone bison will do anything to get to other bison to satisfy its need for a herd.
Bison ranching should begin on a small-scale with one bull and 10 to 15 females or cows. Being that they were independent animals because of their history, they generally need less hands-on management than cattle. Bison can be easy to care for although you must remember they are considered semi-domesticated, still have wild tendencies and can be temperamental. The bison is intelligent, curious, very majestic and challenging to handle. Most bison ranchers learn to use low-stress careful techniques when handling these unpredictable animals. Both the male and female have horns.
Corrals and fencing need to be more durable for the bison than that of cattle because of their wild, immeasurable force and great speeds, sustaining speeds between 35 and 40 miles per hour. An adult bison stands approximately six feet tall at the hump and can weigh over a ton but can jump five to six feet high. Seven-foot posts with high tensile wire are recommended for tall, sturdy fences that can be easy to climb by workers when necessary. Fencing for cattle need only be about 39 inches high with a few strands of barbed wire at the top just to discourage their urge to “graze on the other side.”
Mating season for the bison is in August and unlike cattle, the bison need no assistance during birthing. Calves are born without anyone’s assistance and seem to hit the ground growing. Prior to mating, males fight for the females, sometimes causing great injury and even death. Things return back to normal after mating season when the bulls hang together in their own little groups away from the rest of the herd.
Cattle need to be protected from disease and require some veterinary intervention whereas the bison rarely needs medical attention. They do however need a healthy certificate when changing ownership. They are extremely hardy and disease resistant. The bison is self-sufficient and don’t need to be milked or fed grain – requirements of the cattle. Bison and cattle are regulated by the state and federal government and it may vary slightly from state to state.
Bison can prosper in any type of environment and climate from extensive heat and humidity to wind chills of minus 100 degrees. As tough as they are, the bison is very adaptive to its surroundings and are very good at fending for themselves in any type of weather. They do not need shelter from the elements the same as cattle.
Whether getting into bison ranching or cattle ranching, the cost is roughly the same. Joining a bison association can help in getting a rancher started with bison. Not only can they help you get up and running, the networking with fellow bison ranchers can offer a world of information and ideas.
Both bison and cattle ranching have its benefits in managing and maintaining grasslands through the various grazing practices. Ranching sustains and conserves native prairies and plains to thrive with natural vegetation and maintain the ecosystem. Bison and cattle control the environment while also gaining a profit from selling them and/or their meat.
Both cattle and bison ranching profit because of the food source of these animals. Cattle that graze and are grain feed are high in protein for the consumer will lesser fat and better quality. The bison meat appeals to the health industry since it is lower in fat than cattle with less cholesterol and high in nutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids. Because they are strictly grass fed and finished, they produce high-quality healthy meat.
Cattle ranching versus bison ranching are very similar in many ways and are a matter of choice and consideration. Cattle are much more docile and domesticated while the bison need less maintenance but do have unpredictable attitudes. It all depends on your own expectations and needs.