Current practices and priorities of bison feeders
in the northern plains


V. L. Anderson and Dennis Sexhus
Carrington Research Extension Center - North Dakota State University
and North American Bison Cooperative


Introduction
Feeding bison bulls for meat production is receiving increased emphasis with the formation of the North American Bison Cooperative. This cooperative operates a slaughter plant exclusively for bison with a target market of white tablecloth restaurants and upscale consumers in the United States and abroad. The feeding of bison bulls for slaughter at a relatively young age has not been well studied. Feeders are using experience and peer communication to develop more efficient rations and feeding systems. The rapidly developing bison industry may benefit from research on feeds, feeding systems, and feedlot management. Before extensive feeding research is undertaken, it would be useful to know what current practices are being used and what producers consider the priorities for future work.

Materials and Methods
In an effort to determine current practices and priorities of bison feeders in the Northern Plains, all feeders (n=123) that had delivered bulls to the North American Bison Cooperative slaughter plant at New Rockford, North Dakota in the past 12 months were sent a survey in early December of 1995. The survey requested information on the scope and scale of the operation, facilities available for feeding and care, feeding methods, concentrate ingredients used and amounts, rations fed, performance of animals, health management, and concerns for the feeding enterprise. Producers were asked to list their three greatest concerns in priority. A point system of 3 points for number one priority, 2 points for a number 2 priority and 1 point for a number 3 priority was used to summarize and describe the relevant topics.

Results and Discussion
Twenty six surveys were returned and summarized representing 1,019 head of feedlot bison. Twenty three respondents were owner/operators of bison cowherds and feedlots, two were cow herd owner/operators only and one was an absentee owner. Table 1 and 2 give basic information on the feeding operations.

More bison bulls are purchased for feeding than raised on the farm. Pen space varied highly. Pasture feeding is used by three feeders. Only 32% of feeders own a scale which would make it difficult to determine weights for market selection. All feeders provided bulls some wind protection in the form of shelterbelts or windfence or both. Just under half of the feeders provide light which may be associated with reduce winter gains due to a strong photoperiod response (Miller and Anderson, 1995; and Stanton and Schutz, 1995). Feeding systems are primarily self feeders (87.5%) with some producers using feedbunks (25%) or both systems (12.5%). Drainage appears to be a problem in some yards but most feeders use bedding to provide a dry place for animals to rest. Bison feeders deworm an average of 2 times. Fly spraying is done on only 23% of the feedlots and 16% of the animals but several respondents indicated the use of predator wasps with effective fly control.

All feeders offered poor to medium quality hay in self feeders. Most frequently used concentrate ingredients are given in table 3. Wheat screening were the most commonly used feed followed by corn barley and Oats. Corn was used at a lower proportion than other ingredients however. Other ingredients used less frequently include wheat (2), corn silage (1), and potato processing waste (1). Two feeders fed a complete commercial diet. Feed processing was done by grinding or hammer milling (8) or pelleting (5).

Animal performance (Table 4) was reported by only 12 of the 23 respondents with an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.61 pounds. Screenings based diets (6) produced 1.54 pounds ADG, barley based diets (3) produced 1.59 pounds ADG with other rations (3 completely different diets) producing 1.84 pounds ADG. Only four respondents reported carcass data with too few numbers to be worthwhile. Highly seasonal variation in carcass traits needs further investigation.

Producer concerns listed included topics in feeds and feeding (31 hits of a total of 67 responses), genetics (9), health, (9), marketing (8), facilities (7), and animal welfare (3). Six major topics were listed under feeds and feeding, 5 under genetics, 2 in the health category, 3 each in marketing and facilities and 2 in animal welfare. Table 5 presents number of hits by subtopic and average score based on the three point system described. Feeds and feeding dominate the concerns with rate of gain and feed cost mentioned the most often. Feed to gain ratio and feed source/quality were also of great concern. Identifying good genetics and deworming were the only other topics mentioned 5 or more times. Feed to gain and dry pens were highest in priority.

Conclusions
Number of respondents to this survey were limited so results must be interpreted with caution. Most bison feeders are relatively small scale and have limited facilities. The possibility of combining feedlot operations should be considered to develop economies of scale which would allow more timely and precise feedlot management. Research is needed to determine optimum or most profitable feeding systems and rations. Bison feeders are interested in improving on the current performance of their animals with priority concerns in feeds and feeding and genetics. The bison industry has a bright future but improvements in the feedlot phase will be needed to improve and sustain production.

Literature Cited
Miller, Bryan and V. L. Anderson. 1995. Influence of diet and season on feedlot performance of bison. Carrington Research Extension Center Beef Production Field Day Proceedings Vol 18:15.

Stanton, T. L., D. Schutz, W. McFarlane, R. Seedig and D. Stewart. 1995. Effect of concentrate level in bison finishing rations on feedyard performance. Colorado State University.


Table 1 Description and management of Northern Plains bison feedlots
	                                Average     Std Err*     Range
	
	Number of head fed	           42	     10	       2-200
	Number of head raised on site	   16	      4	       0-100
	Number of head purchased	   26	      9	       0-187
	Number of pens	                    2.33       .5      1-13
	Number of head per pen	           18	      5	       2-200
	Pen space per animal(sq. ft)**   2350	    518	     280-9000
	Number times animals worked/yr.	    2.64       .3      0-6
	Number of time animals dewormed/yr. 2.00       .2      1-4
	
* Standard error is a measure of the variability of the response.
** Excludes three respondents who use pasture feeding with 5-40 acre pastures.


Table 2 Description and management of Northern Plains bison feedlot enterprises. Percent of Feeders Responding Own a scale 32 Have shelterbelt protection for feeders 95 Have windfence protection for feeders 23 Have lights in feedyard 49 Use self feeders 88 Use feed bunks 25 Consider lots well drained 50 Consider lots acceptable 42 consider lots too muddy 8 Use bedding for feeder bulls 68 Spray premises with insecticide for flies 23 Spray bison with insecticide for flies 16


Table 3 Ration ingredients used in bison feedlots. Number of Average Feeders Usage* Range** Wheat screenings 14 77 25-100 Corn grain 8 25 10-75 Barley 7 61 25-100 Oats 5 43 25-67 * Average usage of ingredient in concentrate portion of bison diets.
** Range of ingredient usage in diets, percent.


Table 4 Gains reported for bison in feedlots. Number of Feeders ADG, lb. Std Err. Range Overall average 12 1.63 .10 1.0-2.2 Screenings based, (min. 50% screenings) 6 1.54 .13 1.0-1.9 Barley based, (min. 50% barley) 3 1.59 .21 1.3-2.0 Other* 3 1.84 .19 1.6-2.2 *Combinations of wheat, oats, silage, potatoes and other feeds.


Table 5 Concerns of bison feeders by frequency and priority *
Frequency Average Mentioned (%) Score** FEEDS AND FEEDING Rate of gain 39 2.00 Feed cost 35 2.37 Feed efficiency 26 2.67 Feed source/quality 22 2.20 Balancing rations 9 2.50 GENETICS Identifying good genetics 22 2.20 MARKETING Carcass grading system 17 1.50 Calf prices too high 13 2.33 FACILITIES Pen drainage 13 2.67 Lot size 9 2.50 Handling facilities 9 1.50 HEALTH Deworming 26 2.16 Fly control 13 1.67 OTHER Animal welfare/happiness 9 1.50 * Only topics mentioned by more than one respondent were included in this table. ** Score is averaged from total points awarded for highest priority (3 points), second highest priority (2 points) and lowest priority (1 point)
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