Want to do something a little different with your family farm or ranch? How about raising bison?
From a land stewardship perspective, there are some major advantages to raising bison. Despite their size, these animals are far easier on pastures than most types of domestic livestock, fostering a healthy grassland ecosystem. Furthermore, they are hardy and well able to take care of themselves with few inputs.
But does raising bison pay? The short answer is yes, but keep in mind that bison are specialty livestock. It is crucial to size up the market before jumping in.
Here are a few of the enterprises you might consider:
- Meat. Bison finish quite well on grass alone, making them efficient in the pasture. The resulting product is lean and high in protein. It has a rich flavor that makes for an enjoyable gourmet dining experience. If you are up to the task of direct marketing bison meat, this enterprise can be extremely lucrative. Potential options are selling to consumers, selling to restaurants, or selling through some health food stores.
- Hides. You may be able to sell these through a novelty shop, or you may need to find a way to direct market to the end purchaser. If you can find a leatherworker interested in your bison, you are in luck as this is an excellent way to sell untanned hides.
- Leather. What if you are interested in working with leather yourself? Add value to your hides by turning them into finished products.
- Fiber. Did you know that bison hair can be spun into yarn? Bison can be either sheared or brushed to collect the hair. Then it must be sorted, as there are four layers of coarse outer coat suitable primarily for making ropes. The soft undercoat is typically mixed with wool or alpaca to make it easier to work with. The result is a soft, durable yarn.
- Trophies. Bison heads can make fine trophies, which in turn make marketable products.
- Skulls and other bones. Some novelty shops carry these items, or you can sell direct to the customer.
- Agritourism. Instead of just selling the bison, sell the bison ranch experience! Bison-related agritourism opportunities are too numerous to list here—the list would look remarkably like an extensive list of agritourism opportunities in general. One of the most common ideas involving bison is herd tours. This could be coupled with other enterprises, such as a gift shop or bed and breakfast.
- Breeding stock. Are you really serious about breeding bison? Selling seedstock may be an option. Note that there are no specialized bison sale barns. You will have to plan on sending bison either to one of the few major bison sales or selling direct to the customer. In some cases, you may be able to sell to zoos and public game reserves.
Before buying any bison, you will want to evaluate these enterprise ideas carefully to locate sales channels and to estimate demand. This requires time and research, but it will pay off in the long run. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out that these unique animals are just the right fit for you.