Rising bison numbers justify optimism in industry

A Canadian Bison Association survey that was conducted in the first quarter of 2018 shows continued growth in the sector.

Executive director Terry Kremeniuk said the association does its own census because the federal census numbers are gathered in June.

“That’s probably the lowest point in the year in terms of the number of animals in the country,” he said at the 2018 CBA convention.

According to the 2016 census, there were slightly more than 119,300 bison, along with 975 producers and an average herd size of 122.

He said when he took those numbers and adjusted for animals born, slaughtered and exported, he believes the population last Jan. 1 was about 150,000 animals.

Given efforts like Bison One Million and optimism in the industry, Kremeniuk told producers the long-term future is bright.

The CBA survey was first done in 2014 and updated last year. The first survey talked to 343 producers, but only 126 participated in 2018.

Still, Kremeniuk found a fairly stable industry with an average herd size of 257 in 2018, down about a dozen animals. The average number of breeding bulls was 12.8, compared to 12, and the average number of cows calving was 92.5, down slightly from 95.

However, he found it interesting that in 2014, 42 percent of respondents were planning to expand while last year 68 percent said that was a goal.

“Those types of numbers raise questions about what is the growth of the herd,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to say at this point in time.”

Further analysis of the numbers found that about a third of the cow herd is less than five years old, while about 60 percent is between five and 17 years old. Ten percent of the cow herd is still productive at older than 17 years.

The average bull age is six.

The weaning percentage is 83, while the average weaning weight of bulls is about 470 pounds and heifers are about 425 pounds.

“As time goes on we’re getting more and more industry data, and hopefully this information is helpful in terms of you planning your business,” Kremeniuk said.

He said the CBA is getting more questions from other stakeholders such as lenders and policymakers about the data it is collecting.

“Any data that we can share with those folks increases the profile and makes sure the interests of the industry are reflected,” he said.

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