Frigid weather doesn’t bother cold-hardy bison herds

The nasty weather that has blanketed the Prairies this winter may have most people cursing, but it doesn’t bother bison.

Instead of fighting nature, the Bison Producers of Alberta want more people to start raising the animal that is best suited for the prairie climate.

“The cold doesn’t bother them. They’re perfectly adapted to the climate,” said Thomas Ackermann, chair of the provincial bison organization.

“This is bison country.”

Ackerman has cattle and bison on his central Alberta farm. While his cattle have been hunched up and miserable from the cold, his bison are “frolicking in the snow.”

With demand for bison outstripping supply, the bison organization is hosting an introduction to bison session at its upcoming Wild Rose Bison Convention and Sale in Ponoka March 14-15 to attract new producers to the industry.

“We have good markets, good prices and a mature market. We need a new generation of producers coming on board,” said Ackermann, chief executive officer of Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk.

For Ackermann, bison’s biggest selling feature is its low maintenance nature.

“You can maintain a 100 to 200 head herd and through the year have only a few peak busy times through the year.”

About 500 bison producers raise 100,000 head in the province, but it’s not enough to keep up with demand for bison meat in Canada, the United States and Europe. 

Ackermann estimates the industry needs to grow by 10 percent a year for the next five to 10 years to keep up with demand.

The introduction to bison workshop is designed to answer prospective producer questions about feed, markets and handling of the animals.

A concern about how to handle the animals seems to be one of the biggest barriers to entry, he said. However, producers have figured out over the years how to handle the animals with inexpensive and safe handling facilities. 

Ackermann said the bison industry is still suffering from the stigma of the exotic livestock boom and bust from 20 years ago, when people bought overpriced livestock such as emu, ostrich and bison, only to have the market drop.

He said the industry is now well established with good markets and proper infrastructure to support bison producers.

“Now we have a market for the product.”

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