Networking and Education of Sustainable Bison Producers in the Northen Plains

Final Report for FNC96-143

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $9,966.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The North Dakota Buffalo Association (NDBA) has nearly 250 members. This group represents an estimated 22,000 head of privately owned bison with an inventory value of over $54 million. Most NDBA members are also member of the recently established processing and marketing cooperative, the North American Bison Cooperative with its slaughter plant at New Rockford, ND. Cooperative members reside in 5 states and two Canadian provinces. The major markets for bison meat are the intermountain west, on the east and west coasts, and in Europe. Bison producers are maximizing the use of their grass, limiting rain feeding and in some cases planting native grass mixtures on marginal cropland for increased grazing of their herds. We are interested in learning from each other as opportunity allows.

Networking is the only method bison producers have for transferring information and collectively improving their production methods until legitimate university research and extension programs are in place and functioning. The grant to the North Dakota Buffalo Association proved to be the start of an ongoing educational program with significant positive results.

Producers were eager to gather in an educational setting to learn from each other. The networking occurred during an extended bus ride, on several ranch visits, at agricultural and bison specific meetings and association sponsored events. This grant also played a critical role in establishing resource materials and educational opportunities for the general public that will continue long after the grant funds are gone.

Specific accomplishments of this grant included:
- The small amount of data from legitimate bison research has been collected and cataloged at a “Bison Library” at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center.
- Educational displays on various bison themes have been developed and observed by thousands of people across the Northern Plains at public events, agricultural meetings, and bison specific gatherings.
- Funded partial cost of producers to conduct networking tours to regional ranches. These visits provided a chance for producers from throughout the region to interact on bison production practices and served to stimulate both new and old producers to do a better job of caring for their bison.

Not all the plans for this grant were realized resulting in the return of a small amount of remaining funds.

Objective 1 – Assemble a bison library containing scientific and anecdotal information on commercial bison production.

A number of books and scientific articles have been collected and are currently maintained at the Carrington Research Extension Center as the “Bison Library”. Journal articles from wide ranging studies and popular press books are available for check out by any interested persons. The literature has been a valuable source of information to researchers and producers inquiring about bison production. Copies of some papers have been distributed in response to inquiries. Scientific papers were procured at the expense of the Carrington Research Center and are an in kind contribution to the “Bison Library”. While this collection constitutes a significant portion of bison knowledge, there is substantial biological information yet to be researched.

This library will continue to grow supported by the ND Buffalo Association, the Carrington Research Center and other organizations. This grant was an important link in providing a basic bison knowledge base and for developing a central location for collection and storage of all available bison information. Research and extension faculty at he Carrington Center have collected and organized the papers and books. The library is currently under the supervision of Dr. Vern Anderson, research animal scientist at the NDSU Center.

This grant helped producers realize the need for more bison research. The association lobbied the ND legislature for research fund and a bona fide bison nutrition research program is under development at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center.

Objective 2 – Develop educational displays with several different themes relating to bison production. Procure associated materials for display along with a commercial display unit.

Graphic presentations of bison information, including charts, photographs, tables, and text were prepared for three separate display themes. General information and photographs featuring bison and bison production were assembled for use at events for the general public. This display was generally manned by bison producers to add a degree of reality and genuineness to the visiting public and to field questions. Some printed information on general bison production was available with this display. Bison meat products with information on the health aspects of bison constituted another display theme. This information was developed with the assistance of Dr. Marty Marchellos, Meat Specialist at North Dakota State University. Bison research plans and accomplishments were the focus of a third display unit. Information on the new bison nutrition research facility under construction at the Carrington Research Center was displayed. Research results from nutritional studies conducted on farms and ranches were also presented. This theme was displayed at events organized primarily for bison producers. Copies of printed research information from NDSU were also available at this display.

Displays were set up at a variety of shows, fairs, and meetings throughout the year. The displays were very well received with frequent crowds converging on the booth to read about bison and ask questions.

The initial development and display of bison information proved to be so popular that a change in grant expenditures was requested an approved to procure a second display board. These units are managed and utilized by ND Buffalo Association members throughout North Dakota and peripheral states and provinces. Our producer organization has developed and put on four new producer seminars. These events were the result of interest in bison and questions generated during to producer to producer networking at the information displays.

These booths will continue to be utilized by the ND Buffalo Association to transfer information on bison research, organizations, and production. Changes will be made in the display material to reflect new developments in raising commercial bison, marketing, and scientific information.

The production of an educational video for commercial bison producers was explored. The committee decided not to support a video for two reasons, 1) producing a professional quality video was quite expensive and 2) there is almost no comparative data one can use to determine the best management practices for commercial bison production. Additional production research is needed before “best management practices” can be defined.

Objective 3 – Partially support a tour for new and experienced bison producers so they may network with each other, mentor when appropriate, and learn from other bison producers in the region.

Grant funds partially supported the cost of a bus with participating producers providing meals, lodging and other expenses during the four day tour. The tour was planned to visit ranchers who had been in the bison business for some time and new producers who had recently made the transition from beef cattle. The tour was timed to coincide with the 1997 National Bison Association summer conference in Gillette, WY. Turn and learn session and conference tours became part of the SARE bus tour agenda. Tour stops were made in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming with an overnight stop in northern Colorado.

The first tour in the summer of 1997 proved to be so popular, a second tour was organized and funded totally by participants. The second tour traveled through a different region of the country visiting Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with stops at progressive bison ranches. Several new people attended this tour in addition to some of the previous bus riders. The third annual tour is being planned for the summer of 1999.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.