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Bison farms stand to be counted

Canada’s bison producers are taking a snapshot of their industry with a recently released census

The Canadian Bison Association is counting heads for the first time in five years.

The group has released its 2018 bison census survey, available until Jan. 15.

Terry Kremeniuk, Canadian Bison Association executive director, says the census will provide much-needed information on herd distribution, animal numbers, age groups, gender and size of the breeding herd. Results will help direct association policy and programming.

“We want a little better understanding of what the makeup of the bison (herd) is, because then it can assist us in planning growth in the industry,” he said. “If we see more heifers coming on board, that demonstrates growth in the herd and that is a good thing for the supply side of the bison business.”

The census has been an every-five-years tradition since 1996.

Results will update herd numbers, bull totals and number of heifers, but will also break down number of breeding cows, breeding bulls, feeder animals and replacement heifers. Questions will also give a snapshot on Canada’s preferred breeds. Ranchers are asked to report how many plains and wood buffalo they own, as well as any genetic crosses.

Farm practices also earn a quick mention, with questions on feeder versus finishing farms and whether ranchers plan to expand their operation in upcoming years.

Questions also delve into last year’s herd breakdown to measure growth.

The Canadian Bison Association has asked producers to report herds as they stood on Jan. 1, 2018.

Manitoba bison

Manitoba Bison Association president Nolan Miller echoed Kremeniuk. Survey results will help predict herd breakdown and determine if there has been growth in the herd, something Miller said is critical to meet current demand.

The Canadian Bison Association is working with both its U.S. counterpart and local conservation groups in a bid to grow bison’s share of the meat market and capitalize on interest in sustainably sourced food.

First Nations communities have, likewise, been drawn into the industry in an effort to bolster producer numbers.

Miller expects herd numbers will be up across the province once surveys are tallied. The provincial group has noted an influx of producers and slow growth of the herd.

“We’re seeing new people starting up in the industry in the last couple of years mainly and some herds, existing herds, are growing,” he said. “I think there would be more herds growing. It’s just that people are kind of landlocked. They don’t have more acres for it.”

The province has generally been responsive to the national bison census in the past, Miller said, adding that he, himself, has already submitted his data.

“It might have taken me five to 10 minutes to fill it out,” he said. “We keep it fairly simple to try and encourage people to fill it out.”

Fewer producers

Nationally, the Canadian Bison Association expects fewer responses than five years ago, largely due to an overall decline in producers.

Canadian farms in general have become fewer and larger, according to the 2016 federal census of agriculture and Kremeniuk says bison ranches have followed that trend. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of bison farms in Canada dropped from 1,200 to 975, although herd numbers remained largely the same.

“The bison industry is certainly not unlike other sectors where there’s been some consolidation and, although the number of producers is smaller, the average (farm) size is larger,” Kremeniuk said.

In 2013, between 340-360 farmers filled in and returned surveys.

Surveys are available online through the Canadian Bison Association and can be submitted by fax, email or regular mail to the association’s office in Regina.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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