Cold Creek Buffalo: Meyer strives for efficient bisonWritten by Gayle Smith
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.
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.
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.