The Development and Mission of the NDSU Bison Nutrition Research Facility
bison industry has been expanding rapidly in the past several years but not
without frustration by many producers interested in knowing more about their
animals and optimum management. The
lack of biological information led many producers to support a formal research
program for bison at North Dakota State University. A new bison research facility is now located at the
Carrington Research Extension Center. While
extensive bison research in several different areas can be carried on with
producer owned and managed animals, some trials require very specific and
regimented protocol. Having animals
under daily management and care by a research team will provide more data from
the same animals as well as more statistical confidence in the results.
Precise sampling and administering of treatments is done more
appropriately at a university-operated facility.
The mission of the facility will be primarily nutrition research.
However, other studies or sampling that can take place will be
facility will consist of 16 pens for nutrition research plus a smaller pen area
for two fistulated bison that will be used for digestion studies.
A working area designed especially for bison for weighing and treating
animals is also included. The bison handling equipment was purchased by a USDA NRI
equipment grant. Construction is
nearly complete with the final pen structures slated for finishing early summer
was initiated in December, 1999 when 60 bison bull calves were unloaded and
penned, 10 to a pen in six pens. The
first trials will focus on maintenance needs for bison, quantify gain from
incremental increases in grain, and practical comparisons of feeding systems.
Totally mixed rations in a fenceline bunk will be compared with self
feeders where hay and grain are fed separately.
Subsequent studies will focus on mineral requirements, especially
selenium, nutrient requirements by season, effects of forage quality, natural
feed ingredient to enhance digestion, and other topics under consideration. Producer input is solicited to aid in developing research
are two other objectives to be addressed by the bison nutrition research
facility. One will evaluate fly ash
as a soil amendment to stabilize soils in feeding environments.
A number of cooperators are contributing to this project, which is
described elsewhere in this publication. The
other objective will be to monitor runoff from the feeding pens in order to
establish nutrient content and pollution potential for ground water.
This component will utilize replicated runoff containment structures from
the feeding pens (four pens drain into each of the four containment structures)
to permit evaluation of different rations for nutrient content in the waste with
potential water table contamination being an important issue.
Test wells are in place at three depths below each of the four
containment structures and will be monitored for nutrient leaching.
to date for the bison research facility was made possible by appropriations from
the ND Legislature, and grants from the following producer organizations:
Minnesota Buffalo Association
A competitive grant from the USDA National Research Initiative, Equipment Grants program provided funds for the Powder River working facilities. Powder River provided the working equipment at a substantial discount as well.
support for site preparation and runoff containment construction was provided by
the ND National Guard as part of the training program for the local engineering
unit. The ND National Guard moved
approximately 100,000 cubic yards of fill and clay, packing and shaping the area
to precise specifications for the pens and runoff containment.
Additional in-kind support was provided by a local contractor, Lee’s
Construction, for earth moving and runoff containment.
Proposed bison nutrition research trials
The following are topics
in need of evaluation for the benefit of bison growers throughout the continent.
Please relate other issues of concern to us as we prioritize research
protocols. These research topics are not
listed in priority order.
Protein requirements of growing heifers and bulls fed for meat. Determine
optimum crude protein levels in diets of growing animals.
Evaluation of forage type and maturity. Compare
animal performance and digestion of cool-season brome grass with warm-season
mixed native species harvested at two stages, vegetative or mature.
Compare conventional feedgrains and co-products for growing heifers and bulls in
wintering regimes and in regimes for feeding bison bulls for meat.
Evaluate naturally occurring additives such as yeasts and enzymes in high forage
diets to attempt to improve digestibility.
Determine mineral requirements for growing bison. Focus on calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and selenium.
Compare mineral sources for bioavailability and practical use of mineral
types in different regions.
Evaluate production systems that minimize grain and maximize forage for bison
bulls from weaning to slaughter.
Develop a laboratory to study the rumen environment of bison and digestion of
feeds. Two or three
ruminally-cannulated animals that are comfortable being handled will be used in
this research program. Procure
appropriate equipment and develop housing and facilities for the bison digestion
Conduct studies on rumen function and digestion with graded levels of energy
(grain) in the diet.