The Bison Advantage Outreach and Education Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $103,675.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: North Central
State: Colorado
Project Coordinator:
Jim Matheson
National Bison Association

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, grazing management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, eradication, physical control, prevention
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development


    The Bison Advantage Outreach and Education Program concluded on September 30th and is being considered a huge success by the National Bison Association (NBA) and its project partners. We were able to directly reach 174 extension agents, ag educators and existing and potential farmers and ranchers through our workshop series. The NBA was able to reach an additional 200 extension agents through exhibition at the September Extension Agent Trade Show. Further dissemination of program materials and learning resources reached an additional 323 bison farmers and ranchers across the North Central region, in every state. While we aimed to directly reach 1,000 individuals in this program, we managed to directly reach 697, however, we also came in $22,617 below our projected program budget.

    The project also resulted in great new learning tools that promote a sustainable and holistic approach to bison production. The2nd edition of the Bison Producer’s Handbook, a comprehensive book that is packed with information for veteran bison producers and newcomers alike, was published and disseminated in January reached 836 National Bison Association members in addition to those who attended our workshops. More than 30 industry experts collaborated to develop nearly 300 pages of useful, readable information on all aspects of bison marketing and production. We even got an endorsement from famed humane animal handling specialist, Dr. Temple Grandin – “An essential source of information for people getting started in the bison industry.  It is also a valuable reference for established bison producers.” The book also includes a chapter on holistic bison pasture management, by project team member and certified Holistic Management Education instructor, Roland Kroos.

    Accompanying this great learning tool is the bison learning curriculum and the corresponding online training, which we’re calling Bison 301 to compliment our other two preexisting online trainings, Bison 101 and Bison 201. Bison 301 is based on the learning curriculum that the project team developed, designed to introduce extension agents, as well as new and existing livestock producers, to a holistic and sustainable approach to bison ranching. The online training covers everything from the history of the animal and the industry to holistic bison management, and includes case studies of six sustainable bison start-ups from across the country that details their stories on how they got started in the bison business.

    This toolkit of learning resources has provided the adequate training needed to inform and educate stakeholders about this emerging business opportunity in the North Central United States. The tools will continue to be utilized across North America and beyond as more farmers and ranchers explore the bison business. These tools are ensuring that as we grow our business, we are doing so in a holistic and sustainable manner, which leads to longevity of our business and the species.


    The Bison Advantage Outreach and Education Program was a tremendous success and largely met its proposed goals and objectives. The final months of the project saw a flurry of activity and outreach. We were able to facilitate six workshops, five of which took place on working bison operations and one which was facilitated at the National Buffalo Museum - which does include a small herd of bison. In addition to these workshops, the National Bison Association presented the project and its deliverables at six bison association conferences, resulting in a total 12 workshops/presentations.

    Attendees were essentially split in half between extension agents/ agricultural educators, and  new/prospective bison producers largely with no background in bison. Based on the workshop evaluations conducted after each workshop, attendees indicated that the learning tool-kit that they took home with them was very valuable in extending their own education on bison as well as to teach others about this emerging sector of American agriculture. The students also indicated that the workshops were very informative and well facilitated.

    The learning tools developed through this project proved very adequate in educating individuals about raising bison in a holistic manner, and will serve the National Bison Association in educating many more in the years to come utilizing these resources. The Bison Producer's Handbook, for example, was distributed to the entire membership of the National Bison Association in the United States.

    The project did fall short of its proposed 15 workshops by three. One proposed workshop, in conjunction with the Michigan Bison Association, was canceled because the associated event that was to host the workshop was unexpectedly canceled at the last moment and we were unable to find a suitable host in time. Another workshop, which was to be facilitated in conjunction with the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), did not materialize due to scheduling conflicts. Unfortunately, the ITBC had prior commitments that did not permit the time, nor staff, to support a workshop. The last proposed workshop that did not come together would have occurred in Wisconsin in conjunction with the Wisconsin Bison Producers Association. This association did not follow through with a planned summer get together, which would have provided the workshop event space, due to their membership's lack of time during the busy summer farming months.

    With these unexpected cancellations, the National Bison Association was able to adjust its work plan accordingly and hosted a booth at the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS), which educates and recognizes Extension professionals who improve the quality of life for individuals, families and communities, annual tradeshow in Montana. This resulted in approximately 200 individuals, largely extension agents, to visit our booth and learn more about the Bison Advantage.

    As such, the National Bison Association deems this project a tremendous success.  

    Project objectives:

    Overall, the project's objectives and performance targets were met in an efficient and productive manner.  The project's originally proposed objectives and performance targets were outlined as follows, which is followed by the project team's assessment of each:

    • The project’s first objective is to create a bison-specific curriculum that agricultural educators, particularly extension agents, can utilize to educate the next generation of producers.

      The bison curriculum was developed by the project team successfully and was disseminated to all workshop attendees, including extension agents. The curriculum was further improved with an accompanying online training that serves as an abridged version of the 300-page Bison Producer's Handbook - 2nd edition and accompanies the eight-module training. The curriculum includes the project's newly developed holistic grazing guidelines for bison and every other major aspect involved in the production, management and marketing of bison. The curriculum was designed to allow flexibility to the educator by developing modules that focus on various aspects of the bison industry, such as holistic grazing, large and small scale operations, low-stress animal handling, etc. The National Bison Association has already started to further disseminate the curriculum and associated learning tools by sharing at the 2016 National FFA Convention, which draws over 55,000 young farmers and FFA advisors/educators. The curriculum will prove to be a great bison-learning resource for years to come. See the curriculum here: bison-advantage-curriculum-6-10-16


    • The second objective is to support bison-specific research on pasture management protocols with partner ranches.

      The research resulting from this project has proven very helpful and effective. Consulting with Roland Kroos - Crossroads Ranch Consulting, and Kirk Gadzia - Resource Management Services, both of whom are certified holistic management educators, the project team was able to develop the proposed holistic pasture management guidelines. These guidelines are included in the curriculum and featured in both the online training and the Bison Producer's Handbook - 2nd edition. The holistic pasture management protocols feature a twelve-step program that allows users to take incremental approach to developing a holistic agricultural operation, thereby allowing existing producers to move towards a holistically managed operation as well. The guidelines also include detailed information on the bison's relationship and impact on the land, rangeland and pasture ecology management, as well as the principles of holistic management. The protocols are especially useful as they can be applied to the small, ten head operation, or to those with the carrying capacity to host thousands of bison. Virtually all of the ranches that hosted workshops were already practicing holistic management, which resulted in an amazing classroom experience to show the results of holistic management live after educating in a classroom (or barn in our case...) environment.


    • The third objective will be to develop a Best Practices manual for producers to utilize in the production of their animals.

    This objective was met in the form of our learning tools. The great opportunity we saw in this project was the ability to develop a handbook for our industry that very much focuses on a sustainable and holistic approach to bison production. The Bison Producer's Handbook - 2nd edition stands as the go-to resource for both beginning and existing bison producers in educating themselves. As such, this project gave us the great opportunity to  really direct bison farmers and ranchers in a sustainable and holistic direction. Again, this resource has already been disseminated to over 1,100 individuals including extension agents/educators, existing bison producers and potential farmers and ranchers. The 300-page book was written by 30 authors, all of whom are bison industry veterans, and includes the holistic pasture management protocols outlined in the proposal. Further, an abridged version of the book is available in our Bison 301 online training and which accompanies the project's bison-curriculum.


    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.