Are you curious about how to start a bison ranch? You’re in the right place – in this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to open up one of these operations for yourself.
What You'll Learn Today
- Can You Have a Bison Ranch? Yes!
- How to Start a Bison Ranch: Step by Step
- Are Bison Hard to Raise?
Can You Have a Bison Ranch? Yes!
If you’re interested in starting a bison ranch, you might feel deterred by the sheer impossibility of it all.
Rest assured, though, it is not as impossible as it seems.
While you probably won’t want to raise bison as part of a small-scale hobby farm on a half-acre lot, you can definitely do it if you have a bit more space.
In this post, we will give you some more tips that you can use to start your own bison ranch.
Is Bison Ranching Profitable?
Over time, bison ranching can be profitable. However, it does require a significant amount of investment upfront in order for it to be as such.
You’ll need to buy the bison themselves (a yearling can cost up to $5500 while a cow from good breeding stock can be $10,000 or more). You’ll also need equipment like tractors, trucks, ATVs, feeders and waterers, and more.
Don’t forget the expense involved in feeding and housing for these animals, either. You’ll have to build sturdy fences and find ways to pay for vet bills, too. With all these costs factored in, it will cost you about $800 per year to raise a fully-grown adult bison.
So while there is the potential to make a nice chunk of money with a bison ranch, you do need to factor in how much money it will cost you to get there. This is definitely not a get-rich-quick kind of scheme!
How to Start a Bison Ranch: Step by Step
Ready to open your own ranch? Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Finding Land – How Many Bison Per Acre?
The land is the primary expense when you’re starting a bison farm.
The amount of land you can afford will be a defining factor in how many bison you can raise. Roughly five acres of land can support one or two full-grown bison. If you plan on raising a full herd, you’ll need at least 100 acres.
The more space you have, the better. Not all pasture land will be suitable for grazing. You may have to supplement with grain, which is fine – but if you can spread your animals out more, you’re going to reduce the likelihood of diseases, fighting, and parasite problems, too.
2. Buying the Bison
Bison farming is a long-term venture, so it’s a good idea to start with bison calves rather than adults.
Calves tend to be much easier to manage than full-grown adults. They have better temperaments and since they are smaller, will be easier to move. Adults can be moody, especially if they aren’t used to you.
You can buy bison from specialized breeders and trading organizations. The National Bison Association is a great place to start your search.
Although you can choose to raise just a few bison, it’s better to have multiple. Try to buy a dozen or so at the very least. They are social animals and will feel safer in the presence of other bison.
3. Building Your Fences
Before you bring your bison home, make sure you have some high-quality fencing in place. A basic wood fence is probably not going to do the trick. When startled, your bison will be out of that fence in no time.
Use a combination of woven wire, barbed wire and electric wire fencing. This fence should stand at least six feet tall and be super secured to make sure your livestock are adequately protected.
Be sure to have a gate on each side of the perimeter so that it’s easy to get an animal back in if it happens to get loose.
There aren’t many animals that will go after bison – wolves and grizzly bears tend to be the only ones that even attempt it. Because bison are more likely to stand and defend themselves than other types of animals, like deer, who will run away, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about predator protection.
4. Housing Bison
The best part about raising bison is that they don’t really require any housing. They’ll face right into the wind in a winter storm and often eat snow!
They do not need barns and are tolerant of all weather conditions. Even if you are raising bison in the extreme northern climates, you shouldn’t need to worry about shelter. That’s true even in inclement weather.
In fact, forcing your bison to stay in a barn can actually backfire. As long as bison have lots of space to roam about, they are laid-back animals. If you crowd them, you’re going to run into problems.
5. Feeding Bison
Bison eat primarily grasses, leafy plants, and weeds. They will forage for around nine to eleven hours per day. They do well on alfalfa hay but prefer plain grass when they’re out on pasture. It’s most cost-effective to feed just hay or limited amounts of feed during the winter.
Provide your bison with water at all times but know that they might not always drink it. Bison are so self-sufficient that they will often nibble on snow and find their own sources of water instead.
6. Other Considerations When Raising Bison
As with many other types of livestock, parasites are going to be some of your biggest issues. You can use a SafeGuard lick block to help keep parasites at bay but you may want to deworm with an oral drench or a pour-on regularly, too.
Again, providing your bison with lots of space is a great way to combat parasites. Good pasture rotation can help break the parasite cycle and make it more difficult for them to keep re-infecting your herd.
Consider keeping a handling facility with a crash gate that swings forward around the headgate whenever you need to work your bison. This is an essential item to have on hand for things like vet care. It can prevent injury both to you and to the bison.
When you slaughter your bison, you will likely need to do so on-site. They can be transported to a slaughterhouse, but using chutes and livestock trailers has a tendency to stress them. Bison will often jostle and push against each other, hurting themselves and the farmer.
7. Marketing Your Products: How Much Do Bison Sell For?
The biggest challenge in marketing your finished product is that it can be hard to find interested customers.
Restaurants tend to buy bison meat the most often, since it can fetch top dollar on the menu. Otherwise, you might check to see if there is a local farm marketing cooperative in your area to get your products in front of customers who want to buy them.
One other option is selling farm shares where people can invest now in the bison meat and you will deliver it to them when it is finished.
Because there is a very small bison market in the United States – less than a million of them, in fact – there is very little competition. As a result, you should be able to fetch relatively high prices for your bison meat.
Per pound, bison sells far more than beef. Ground bison can sell for as much as $13.50 per pound while ground beef sells for around $6.25 – so more than twice the average price!
Are Bison Hard to Raise?
Bison ranching is not the same as the cattle ranching. A common misconception that people have about raising bison is that, since they graze and are raised for meat, they are just like cattle.
That is definitely not the case. The bison is far more self-sufficient and can live much longer – more than two decades, in most cases. They take longer to get to market (up to two and a half years, in fact) but can also command a higher carcass price.