Jamie Washburn

Jamie Washburn
Former Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms


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Hooves and Horns

All things livestock and equine...get nutrition, management, animal health and industry updates.

The Bison Advantage

The bison industry is growing rapidly today, spurred by increased consumer demand for the deliciously healthy meat products and its byproducts. This consumer-driven market surge marks a significant step forward in the development of the bison business as a strong, sustainable opportunity for ranchers/farmers and marketers alike.

For bison ranchers—and prospective ranchers—many factors make these native ruminants an easy part of their operation. For a start, bison thrive on native grasses, and are adapted to the climate extremes and the predators of our ecosystem. Bison require no artificial shelter or barns, they prefer to be outside, year round, despite the weather. Bison are very efficient at feed utilization, making them economical foragers which do well on most grasses in the United States. They have long productive lives. Female bison breed when they are two years old and have their first calves when they are three. Cows can live to be 20-25 years old having a calf each year under the right conditions. Given fresh water and adequate nutrition, bison require little else. Thanks to little interference in their genetics, bison rarely requires human intervention when calving. Bison by and large calve on their own. Thanks to years of survival on their own, they have superior hardiness which results in disease resistance, lower input costs, fewer veterinarian visits. Bison thrive in most North American landscapes with no ill effects.

The bison business achieved unparalleled strength, stability and profitability in 2015. Sales of bison meat in restaurants and retail stores now tops $340 million a year. Prices that ranchers are receiving from processors and marketers have been pegged at all-time highs for the past six years. The bison industry enjoys a free enterprise market without excessive intervention. Bison demand has consistently grown in double digits for the past six years.

Think you may want to get into the bison business? Make plans now to attend a FREE Bison Advantage Workshop near you and learn about this new and emerging sector of sustainable American agriculture. The sustainably managed Ruhter Bison Ranch in Urbana, IL, will host a workshop in September to host local extension and other ag educators. The workshop will be a hands on experience in which attendees will be educated on the holistic management of bison, and then shown first-hand the results of a holistically managed bison operation. The workshop will run from 10 am - 3 pm and will include a networking lunch and a ranch tour. The workshop will include an hour or two of classroom time to review the basics of holistic bison production. We’ll also enjoy a networking lunch and a ranch tour at Ruhter Bison. Participants will go home with a “bison toolkit” including literature on sustainable bison production, a Guide to Bison Handling and Management, a bison learning curriculum – with access to the accompanying online training, and more.

The bison industry is growing and the demand for healthier, leaner red meat options is driving the business into new sectors. Bison are a unique part of our heritage in North America and today’s bison continue to display extraordinary genetic prowess. Hardy, feed efficient, easy to manage. To learn more, go to

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