Commercial Bison Production in the Northern Plains

Vern Anderson, Steve Metzger, and Dennis Sexhus

This paper describes the development, current state, and future considerations of the bison industry in the Northern Plains states and provinces. Bison numbers have increased from the low point of less than 1,000 in North America prior to the turn of the century to a population estimated at up to 250,000 in 1996. Bison ranchers in some cases operate as individual producers and marketers of meat but many have organized to achieve economies of scale for efficient slaughtering, processing, and marketing. Demand for bison meat in the United States, Canada, Europe, and other regions of the world encourages producers to increase production as rapidly as possible. Bison herds are currently showing substantial profits with sale of breeding stock providing greater income than bulls fed for meat. Future bison production must become more efficient in both cow/calf and feedlot segments as the industry grows. Research is needed to support efficient economical production while continuing to propagate the unique features of bison. Conducting research on bison raised for meat is difficult as bison are wild animals and have strong social ties in addition to seasonal variations in feed intake and gain. Bison meat will remain a niche market product as animal numbers increase slowly to meet consumer demand. The bison industry appears to be healthy and growing with a bright future.

Affiliation of co-authors and non-CREC staff - Dennis Sexhus, North American Bison Cooperative.

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