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“The secret is out about bison,” says Rancher John Flocchini of Durham Bison Ranch outside of Wright. “It wasn’t ever really a secret, but I think more and more every day, consumers are realizing the benefits of bison, not just from a nutritional point of view but also in terms of quality of eating experience.”

At their annual meeting in January, the National Bison Association (NBA) reported “closing out a record year of profitability and recognition,” with optimism for continued success into the next year.

“We’re wrapping up a banner year, with Congress designating bison as the national mammal and the American public increasingly choosing bison meat for their families,” NBA Executive Director Dave Carter says. “Our challenge for 2017 is to continue to build the business, so we can bring more bison back to pastures and rangelands across North America.”

Continued success

The success of 2016 was built on higher prices and increased demand.

According to USDA, the prices marketers paid for dressed bison bulls averaged higher than $4.30 per pound throughout 2016.

“We anticipate that prices will remain strong as demand for bison meat continues to grow,” Carter says.

In the retail and restaurant sales arenas, bison products grew $10 million in sales in 2016 to $350 million.

USDA data shows that 61,300 bison were processed under federal and state inspection last year, an increase of 1,000 animals from the year before.

Consumers

Flocchini comments that many consumers have a fear of cooking bison – or over-cooking it.

“Bison isn’t hard to deal with as a regular food item,” he explains. “It has a great taste and stigma of over-cooking bison is changing.”

At the same time, those consumers focusing on specialty diets or with a desire to connect to their food are drawn to the alternative protein.

“Bison is a low fat, low cholesterol alternative meat, and it’s naturally high in iron,” Flocchini says, adding that several years ago, Reader’s Digest listed bison as one of the most five important food for women because of it’s low fat and high iron. “This product is naturally healthy for consumers.”

Flocchini also adds that bison is distinctly different from beef, providing an entirely different eating experience.

“Bison doesn’t have the marbling that beef does, so it doesn’t have that buttery experience,” he explains. “It has more of a sweet, lean eating experience, which is great.”

Bison meat has been particularly appealing to consumers seeking indigenous products, and it has seen a strong following from those consumers on a paleo diet and in the Cross Fit community.

“Beef will never be threatened by bison,” Flocchini says, “but bison is a great niche market.”

Producers

While the number of people consuming bison has grown, Flocchini remarks that producer numbers have also grown in the last few years.

“Our peak production was in the late 1990s, when there was a lot of hype in the industry as far as breeding animals go, and people got really excited,” he says. “The concept was great, but unfortunately, at the time, the foundation for the meat market had not really established.”

Flocchini adds, “The enthusiasm outgrew the reality of the marketplace at that time, and there was a contraction within the industry.”

A decline in prices meant that many producers lost large amounts of money, and a large number were forced out of the market.

“Those who stuck with bison production have come through the other side, and recently, we’ve seen a lot more brand new producers who are interested in raising bison,” Flocchini says. “That’s exciting because we see a lot of demand but not enough supply.”

Increasing prevalence

The resurgence in bison meat has been a long time coming, says Flocchini.

“NBA has been focusing on meat marketing our protect for a while as far as describing bison, but it’s taken time to get to consumers,” he says. “It’s more of a niche product, so supply limits how quickly that demand spreads.”

“We are in a challenging situation,” Carter adds. “As more people discover the great taste and nutritional benefits of bison, we have to keep pace. We are working with existing ranchers to increase their herds and have rolled out the welcome mat for new producers willing to join us in bringing more naturally-raised bison meat to the marketplace.”

While he doesn’t attribute all of the success of bison to the marketing efforts of NBA, Flocchini says that other key marketers in the industry, as well as farm-to-table operations, have begun to emerge, as well.

“Word has trickled out, and the press has begun to catch up with our story,” he comments. “There’s a great story to be shared, and now, bison is much more available than it has been in the past.”

As demand has increased, grocery stores across the country have started carrying bison products, as well.

“People probably get introduced to bison for the first time in restaurants or from friends, and when they see that, in most metropolitan areas, it’s available, it begins to catch on,” says Flocchini

In the future

As NBA looks at 2017, they see even more potential, with planned programming to increase profitability for those currently in the bison business and introduce prospective producers to the opportunities available.

“The bison market is enjoying strong stability and profitability, with growth projected to continue as long as we can expand herds across the country,” Carter says. “Our primary focus today is reaching out to producers to build the herds of bison across the country.”

In July 2017, NBA will host an International Bison Conference in Big Sky, Mont., bringing producers from primarily the U.S. and Canada but also from around the world.

“Most people producing bison are in the U.S. and Canada, but there will be people from all over the world in attendance, including Europeans and Australians,” Flocchini says. “Folks are raising bison in the most amazing places.”

Flocchini comments, “Continued strong demand on the meat side and more demand for live animals for breeding means that bison producers are optimistic and the bison industry is strong.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cheyenne – Since a buffalo cow can live up to 30 years or more, it is important to select an animal with good conformation, according to a Wyoming buffalo producer. Boyd Meyer of Cold Creek Buffalo discussed cow-calf economics of bison during The Bison Advantage conference south of Cheyenne on June 22.
    Meyer grew up raising and showing hogs, and was in the hog business and later in the beef business as an adult. He first became involved with bison after a friend asked if he would consider diversifying into the animal. With no opinion either way, Meyer attended his first winter conference on bison during the stock show and came away interested.
    He started in the bison business part-time in 2002 and moved into the business full-time in 2005, when he had the opportunity to lease the Terry Bison Ranch and purchase the herd. Today, Meyer runs around 800 mother cows and finishes 3,000 to 3,500 bison each year in a feedlot at the ranch. Most of the finished bison are sold to Rocky Mountain Natural Meats in Denver, Colo. “The opportunities have been rewarding for me in the bison business,” Meyer explained of his operation.
Heifer selection
    Meyer selects heifers that will mature around 1,100 pounds.
    “I feel the most efficient cows are the medium frame, high capacity cows,” he said. “There are some 1,300 to 1,500 pound cows out there that may also produce, but I don’t feel they are as feed efficient.”
    The bison producer said he likes to wean his calf crop in January when it’s colder, to avoid the hot-cold spell the area has in November. “It is also after the holidays and the bison conferences,” he added.
    Once weaned, the heifers are placed on a high fiber weaning ration consisting of soy hull pellets, free choice grass or millet hay, with some corn and wet distillers grain. After 90 days on this weaning ration, Meyer likes to select his replacement heifers.
    “I want the heifers I keep to have gained at least 195 pounds on the weaning ration,” he explained.
    He also looks at conformation of the heifers, selecting medium frame heifers with good length, good feet and legs, depth and thickness from front to back, a feminine head and features and good bone and structure.
    The heifers are then turned out to grass, with free choice grass hay or millet hay and a balanced mineral and vitamin supplement that has been tested for his area. He also feeds cake to the heifers during the second winter to make sure they are off to a good start.
    The following March, he turns the heifers in with the bulls.
    “We had been turning the heifers in with the herd,” he explained. “But, the last few years, we’ve been breeding them by themselves, and turning them in with the herd later.”
    He likes to use one bull for every 18 cows.
    All the cows and heifers on the ranch are vaccinated with Virashield 6 and 7-way every other year. He also worms the cows and heifers to eliminate any parasites. Meyer cautions other producers that pour-on wormers are inadequate on bison because of their thick hair follicles and the amount of dirt in the coat.
    “If you use a pour-on, most of it will just runoff,” he said.
    Producers can use a feed through, but in his experience, the animals carrying the biggest parasite load will be weaker and won’t fight their way to the bunk.
    “I’ve found that Ivomec injectable works best, but you have to have a chute to work the buffalo,” he said.
    In Wyoming, Meyer said producers are also required to vaccinate all their female bison for brucellosis before they are 18 months old.
    “I would suggest producers who live in states where they are not required to have this vaccination give it to them anyway,” he said. “It just gives you more options if you ever have to sell them.”
    The female bison are pregnancy checked and have to come in open twice before they are culled, he explained.
    “If you cull the first time they are open, you will have a hard time getting them to the 15-year average – especially during a year like this,” he explained. “In my operation, I don’t feel like it is cost-effective to cull them the first time they are open because of the cost to develop heifers.”
    If a heifer or cow is open, Meyer checks for body condition, injuries and makes sure they have weaned a calf. If the animal meets all this criteria, he notches the ear tag to indicate she was open. If she comes in open again, she is culled, he said.
Selecting breeding bulls
    Meyer likes to performance test the bulls after they are weaned in March. They are placed on a feed test until fall, where he likes to see them gain 2.5 to three pounds per day. The yearling bulls average 750 to 900 pounds, and two-year-olds average 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. An ultrasound technician also collects carcass information on the bulls, including marbling.
    “It took the ultrasound technician a while to understand that we don’t want marbling in buffalo meat,” he explained. “We don’t want to produce a steak that goes into the meat case and looks like a beef steak.”
    Although bulls can breed a lot longer, Meyer only keeps them in the herd until they are between six and seven years old.
    “Once they get beyond that, they become more lazy and independent, and they go through gates and fences,” he said.
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Fencing for bison
Cheyenne – Fencing is one of the most important considerations for producers considering the bison business.
    “Fencing is important because once they get out, it is very difficult to stop them,” Meyer said. “If you have to fence a ranch for buffalo, what it really comes down to is your comfort level. If you are a nervous person, you may want a better fence.”
    On his ranch, Meyer has three different types of fence. The one he likes most are eight-foot posts holding up woven wire with two strands of high tensile wire on top.
    “If they grow up in it from the time they are heifers, they will not force it,” he said.
    During the winter, Meyer encourages bison producers to have a smaller place to feed and water the cows, especially if there is a storm. Although Meyer doesn’t typically see a lot of snow at the ranch, a few years ago, five to eight foot drifts pushed his buffalo through the fence and onto the railroad tracks.   
    “The UP railroad wasn’t too happy to see 600 to 700 cows standing on the railroad tracks for a few days after it snowed,” he said.
    Meyer encouraged producers to determine what fence will work best for them, and try not to go overboard.
    “Fencing costs for bison can break you,” he said.


Cody – Although the Northern Arapaho tribe’s effort to move Yellowstone bison onto the Wind River Indian Reservation hasn’t moved ahead as quickly as they hoped, Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan says they are still moving forward with the plan.
    At the April 16 meeting of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team Logan gave an update on where the situation now sits.
    “The Arapaho tribe and two others had applied with APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) to receive the bison from a brucellosis quarantine facility, and the Arapaho were the only tribe deemed ‘ready’ to take bison,” said Logan. “Legally, the tribe can go anyplace and buy bison free of brucellosis and import them as long as they meet the Wyoming Livestock Board’s (WLSB) import requirements.”
    He said part of the hang-up has been APHIS requirements on bison coming from the quarantine facility, relating to fencing, commingling, testing, etc.
    The tribe intends to pasture the bison on what’s known as Grazing Unit 32, a 32,000-acre fenced pasture near Boysen Peak on the west side of the Wind River Canyon. Currently the pasture does not have adequate fencing for bison.
    “Their contingency plan was to make an arrangement with the Red Canyon Ranch northwest of Thermopolis that’s already set up for bison, and we took a tour of that and it looked good and at that point everything looked like it was a go,” said Logan.
    However, that deal fell trough. In the meantime, the tribe has talked with owners of another ranch near the Red Canyon Ranch. “The latest information I have is they are in the process of fencing on that ranch to make it compatible with the bison requirements,” noted Logan.
    In regard to concern about the 30 percent seroprevalence rate in elk on the reservation, Logan said the elk are quite a bit west of where the bison will be. “Game and Fish personnel say it’s very rare the elk from the Dubois area would ever go near where the bison would be pastured,” he said.
    Before the bison are moved Logan said MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) must first be signed between the Northern Arapaho and APHIS and the tribe and the WLSB. Currently the MOU between the tribe and the WLSB is in the hands of the tribe’s attorney.
    “The concern of the WLSB, and the majority of producers in the area, isn’t a disease issue,” said Logan. “We’re pretty satisfied they’re clean, but we’re concerned from a management standpoint. We want to make sure the bison are adequately contained and don’t pose a threat, disease or otherwise, to wildlife and livestock interests in the area.”
    In the MOU, Logan said the most pertinent item out of nine management points is that the bison will be considered livestock. “In the MOU they’re required to be maintained on tribal properties, and if they escape they’re subject to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Chapter 41 rules, which gives the WLSB authority to lethally remove them. That would be something we could fall back on.”
    Although the tribe’s original plan was to move the bison to Wyoming in early April, now they’ve begun calving. “At this point the whole thing’s up in the air,” said Logan. “We will probably try to tour the new place to see the progress sometime in the last week of April.”
    “The Livestock Board is not trying to facilitate this thing – we’re an interested party,” said Logan. “We’re trying, if this occurs, through the use of an MOU to have some ability to protect livestock producers in the area.”
    Interested parties will meet to discuss the proposed project at 7 p.m. April 30 in Thermopolis at Big Horn Federal. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Hot Springs Conservation District and the Wyoming Livestock Board will sponsor the meeting. David Stoner of the Arapaho Ranch will be present, as will the fencing contractor.
    Producers from the allotment on the south side of the mountain have already met, and he said they’re “very concerned about the proposition.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Wind River Indian Reservation – In 1990 the InterTribal Bison Cooperative was formed to coordinate and assist tribes with the return of bison to Indian country.
    The Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation has been a part of that effort and this spring held public meetings and created a plan to bring Yellowstone bison to a part of the reservation from an area in Montana where they’ve been quarantined for several years and tested multiple times for brucellosis.
    The ITBC now has a membership of 57 tribes, with a collective herd of over 15,000 bison.
    In a recent General Council meeting of the Northern Arapaho, however, Ken Trosper, who’s worked closely with the issue, says the tribe ultimately voted against bringing bison onto their Arapaho Ranch land.
    “The tribe wasn’t presented facts regarding brucellosis transmission, and that’s why the effort was voted down,” says Trosper. “They were being told our ranch would have to kill all its cows if we brought bison onto the reservation because of brucellosis, which isn’t true at all.”
    “I don’t know how we’re going to move forward from here, but we’re going to do something,” he explains. “There’s a lot of contention right now among the people because of the way the resolution was presented in the Council. They didn’t understand it.”
    Trosper says the resolution’s wording wasn’t very clear, and many people thought they were voting for the bison when, in fact, they voted against.
    Work had already begun on fencing for a 650-acre pasture within the larger area, which runs along the west side of Wind River Canyon, designated for use by the bison.
    Trosper says the tribe generally holds three General Councils each year, and he says the bison issue is ongoing. He hopes to bring the issue back to one of the two remaining Councils.
    “The resolution that failed only pertained to ranch property, so that doesn’t exclude the rest of the reservation,” he explains.  
    Of maintaining their hold on the Yellowstone bison currently available, he says they can only be held for so long before they’re available to any federal or public agency.
    “What’s sad about it is we went through all the hoops and won the bison, but we lost the chance because some guys that didn’t know the facts about brucellosis were saying things like cattle could pick up the disease from bison manure,” says Trosper, adding that none of those who protested the idea in General Council had been present at any of the planning meetings.
    By not voting to bring bison back to the Northern Arapaho Tribe, Trosper says, “We’re turning our back on thousands of years of culture, and a lifestyle built on bison.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Riverton – In early February the Northern Arapaho tribe called a meeting regarding their desire to reestablish a herd of bison on the Wind River Indian Reservation for cultural, ceremonial, traditional and nutritional purposes.
    Northern Arapaho Bison Manager Ken Troster, who was hired by the tribe to investigate its options with bison, said the herd would be used for traditional ceremonial uses as well as to provide meat for the diabetic on the reservation.
    Although project information says the ultimate goal of the Northern Arapaho tribe is to bring back bison as free-roaming native wildlife, their present focus is to establish a herd on a 32,207-acre unit that composes six percent of the Arapaho Ranch and runs along the western edges of Boysen Reservoir and the Wind River Canyon. Although the unit is partially fenced for cattle the enclosure needs to be upgraded for bison.
    “The plan right now is that we’ll lease a ranch outside of Thermopolis that’s already set up for bison for the next few years until we can build the secure fence,” said Troster of the Red Canyon Ranch, which has housed bison for the last eight years.
    The bison would come from a project in Montana led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, of which project founder Keith Aune is a part. He said the Society established their interest in bison through the American Bison Society.
    “Our interest is in helping people develop projects with bison through our science-based organization,” said Aune.
    Currently the Society has taken bison from the herd in Yellowstone National Park and put them through brucellosis quarantine with the goal of making them available for tribes and conservation interests nationwide.
    “One of our main objectives in capturing these animals was a conservation attempt aimed at genetics,” said Aune, mentioning that North American bison went through a tremendous bottleneck in their history and their gene pool remains limited. “All bison in North America come from five privately-owned source stocks and two public.”
    He said there’s an emerging interest in bison from Yellowstone because they’ve maintained their pure genetics. “Many producers began blending cattle with the bison, and there are a lot of federal and state bison herds that have cattle genes,” said Aune. He said there are only five known existing herds without cattle genes.
    “They’re also important because they come from one of only three known herds that are 1,000 animals or more and that operate in a natural way,” he continued. “They’re unique in environment, management situation and genetics.”
    The issue of primary concern to reservation-area ranchers with the bison reintroduction is brucellosis transmission. A Montana plan 10 years in the making resulted in three options for the excess Yellowstone bison: slaughter, quarantine or research. “That’s what drives Montana to figure out what to do with the surplus from Yellowstone,” said Aune. “It took a long time to come up with a procedure for quarantine, but it was designed and built by a suite of vets, epidemiologists and experts from federal, state and private interests that sat down and constructed the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Quarantine Plan.”
    A six-year study from 1995 through 2001 analyzed brucella in bison. “We found the disease in bison is very similar to cattle,” said USDA APHIS veterinarian Jack Rhyan.
    “There is one scientific issue we’ve always been concerned about – latent infection, or ‘heifer syndrome’ in cattle,” said Rhyan. “In cattle a calf can be exposed to brucella and become infected without developing clinical signs. It carries the infection and its blood tests are negative, but when a heifer becomes pregnant she might abort and that’s the first time you know you’ve got brucella.”
    He said the protocol addresses that and requires bison heifers to get through their first calf and remain negative. “This project is a feasibility study designed to look at two groups of 100 animals each and take them all the way through to when we put them on tribal and public lands, after which we’ll survey them for another five years,” he said.
    The bison that remain in the herd today have tested negative for brucellosis anywhere from nine to 15 times, and Rhyan said they’ll all be tested once more before transport. There are currently 21 cows, 16 calves and four bulls that meet the requirements of the protocol and are qualified for movement.
    Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan said the Wyoming Livestock Board’s (WLSB) concern with the bison importation is not a disease issue. “We’re absolutely not going to import brucellosis-infected livestock or bison into this state. It simply wouldn’t be done,” he said.
    Logan said the bison would have to be imported according to Chapter 8 Import Rules. In this case the bison will be imported as livestock, not wildlife. “The bison will have to be brucellosis vaccinated to come into Wyoming, and most of them have already been vaccinated twice,” he said.
    Once they’re in the state the bison will have to abide by Chapter 2 brucellosis rules and any USDA/APHIS rules regarding the disease.
    “As long as the tribe complies with WLSB and APHIS rules, we don’t have any major concern with this from a disease standpoint,” noted Logan.
    “We’re being extremely cautious, and through an agreement with the bison recipient we’ll test them once more after they calve one more time and then monitor them four years after that,” said Aune.
    Logan suggested the tribe sign a management and animal health agreement with the WLSB and Fremont and Hot Springs counties. “It would have to be voluntary, but the reason to do it would be public relations,” he said. “It would also be an animal health step with a plan to prevent disease and deal with it should any kind arise in the herd.”
    Logan also said that, through an agreement with the Wyoming Game and Fish, the WLSB has authority to lethally remove any escaped bison, whether they come from the reservation or elsewhere. “The Game and Fish does not want wild herds of bison outside the Shoshone, Bridger-Teton or Absaroka national forests, so if they’re outside off the forest zone they’re considered livestock,” he said.
    “We have an interest in working with the tribes to create opportunities for ecologically and culturally sensitive management,” said Aune of the plan. “There are a handful of places in North America where the land and interest are there to consider this kind of a venture and with the Northern Arapahos we’d be matching up their interest in having a cultural herd with the availability of Yellowstone bison.”
    If all goes as planned the Northern Arapaho tribe will receive their first bison at Thermopolis this spring.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..