Keeping Bison (Basic FAQs, Tips + More)

When it comes to raising farm animals, most people think about raising chickens, cows, and horses, but what about raising non-traditional farm animals like bison? 

Keeping bison is doable for anyone who has raised farm animals before. However, bison are a bit trickier than raising other cattle since bison need more space, a lot of food, and tall fencing to thrive. Luckily, bison are very sturdy and tough animals that do not require much maintenance.

Do you want to learn more about raising bison? Join us at Floofmania as we take a deep dive into all the facts about keeping bison!

Are Bison Hard To Raise?

Bison are not extremely hard to raise, especially if you have some experience with farm animals. Most farmers and other animal keepers say that raising bison is somewhat similar to cows.

However, defining what “hard” means will depend on your experience. It is important to note that bison are not “easy” to raise either though. They have more needs than regular cattle that future bison owners should about know beforehand, and they may demand a bit more work on your part.

Bison grazing in a forest clearing next to a body of water.

For instance, cows and bulls would require different fencing. For instance, both would require high-tensile wire fencing, but bison need taller fences than cows. 

Cows and bison also need different amounts of space. Bison need at least an acre per bison whereas a cow only needs around 10.5 square meters of space. 

Are Bison More Aggressive Than Cows?

Bison can be more aggressive than cows, but that does not mean they are aggressive in general! However, bison are more likely to attack if provoked or frightened compared to cows.

How Do You Know If A Bison Is Getting Angry?

When bison start becoming aggressive, they start displaying a few warning signals that you should look out for. These include:

  • Raising their tails
  • Tossing their heads
  • Snorting
  • Pawing their hooves at the ground
  • False charging (appearing as if they are about to charge but then don’t), but do not run if you see bison false charging
  • Twigs and leaves on their heads (meaning they have been charging at plants and they are already aggressive)

What Would You Need To Keep A Bison In Captivity?

Herd of bison on a grass field walking toward the viewer with a bush-clad hillside in the background.

The exact things that you would need for bison to keep them in activity would depend on where you live and your current setup (if you have any), but here is a rundown of some of the basic things required.

Bison Fencing

Fencing is one of the first things you need to prepare before you get bison to keep them within your property. Generally, most bison fencing will be made of high-tensile wire.

Some people may use barbed wire for their bison, but the high-tensile wire is often preferred by farmers. It is ideal to have 3-8 wires with at least 3 of the wires being electric wires.

As for the height, you need to make your fence at least 5 feet tall, but you may need taller fencing if your area is prone to heavy snowfall. If you do not experience heavy snowfall, 5-foot tall fences should be fine since bison will not push fences if they have enough water, food, and space.

Wondering why bison need such tall, electric fences? They can push them down or jump over them, like in this video!

Fact: Bison are the biggest land animal in North America! Male bison can reach up to 6 feet tall and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. This is why you need tall fences to keep them on your property!

Want to learn more about a bison’s growth? Read our article, “How Big Are Bison?”!

How Much Space Do Bison Need? 

Bison need a lot of space, so you need to prepare a very large enclosure. It is recommended that you have at least one acre of land for each bison

Remember to never skimp on the space. Bison need to graze and have space to roam. Otherwise, they will start trying to jump or break your fence!

What (And How Much) Do Bison Eat?

Bison usually eat leafy plants, weeds, and grasses. Typically, a huge part of their diets should consist of grass since they are primarily grazing animals. 

Some examples of grass that bison eat are:

  • Sand dropseed
  • Blue gramma
  • Little bluestem
  • Alfalfa hay

When grass and other leafy vegetation are scarce, bison will opt for woody vegetation. They may even eat grain during the winter. However, as their owner, it would be ideal to provide grass throughout the year to keep them healthy.

Bison eat a very large amount since they often forage and graze for 9 to 11 hours a day. As for the exact number, bison need to eat 1.6% of their body weight each day, which can be 24 pounds of food for an adult bison!

Normally, bison can eat regular dairy cow feed, which often consists of corn, barley, and oats. It has also been proven that bison calves can be raised on cow’s milk replacer and cow’s milk. However, most people prefer to use sheep milk replacers because sheep’s milk is more similar to bison milk.

Some other examples of what bison can eat include:

  • Moss
  • Lichen
  • Fungi
  • Nuts 
  • Ferns

Do note that some of these foods are eaten by bison in the wild, and domesticated bison may not need to eat the food listed right above this paragraph.

Keeping Bison In Captivity Requires Permits

Almost all states in the United States will require you to get permits to legally own bison. This is common practice since most of the bison population in the United States is privately owned while the “wild” population is in reserves, state parks, and national parks.

The exact permits that you need to get will depend on your state and county laws. However, most of them will require you to get a livestock license since bison are classified as livestock.

Fact: Yellowstone National Park has been the only area in the United States where bison have constantly lived since prehistoric times. This is why the bison in the Yellowstone area are treasured, being considered descendants of the early bison that once roamed freely throughout the United States.

You can learn more about why there are only a small number of “early descendant” bison by reading our article: Threats And Dangers To Bison: Are They Going Extinct?

A Bison Will Need Attention From A Vet

Like any other animal, bison will need medical attention from a veterinarian, especially if they are sick or when they are young. This is crucial if you want to keep your herd healthy, especially since a single sick bison can infect the rest of your herd (if they get an infection or virus.).

Normally, calves have to be examined by a vet once born, and they get vaccines when they are 1-2 years old. Luckily, most bison do not need regular vet visits since they are very sturdy. You only need to get them checked when they appear ill, pregnant, etc.

Fact: Some people call baby bison “red dogs” because they are orangey-red when born, and they are normally born between late March to May. 

Can Bison And Cows Live Together?

It is possible to make bison and cows live together, but it requires more work. Cows need a lot less space than bison, but you still need to have enough space to keep both animals.

It is also important to note that bison could pass diseases to the cows. For instance, bison can carry brucellosis, which is a bacterial disease that can be dangerous to unborn calves. 

Not yet convinced? Read our article, “Bison VS Cows” to learn more about how these two animals differ.

Do Bison Make Good Pets?

Two bison standing in a frozen field with vapor around them and a hillside in the background.

Bison do not make good pets. Whilst they have been domesticated, especially once in human care, they will never truly be a pet. A cow would actually be a better candidate! Despite being somewhat domesticated, bison retain many of their wild instincts, making them more difficult than dairy cows.

Bison will not make good pets, they will only be decent farm animals. 

A Bison Can Get Used To Humans, But Not “Tame”

Bison can be taught to be mostly calm around humans and live a domesticated life. However, they will still react like wild animals if they feel threatened, so they may attack you. 

As such, bison cannot be directly considered pets. They can only be livestock. For instance, you can train a pig to be a pet since they can be fully domesticated to be completely tame, such as cows or cats.

Can A Bison Be Ridden?

You cannot ride a bison, and you should not attempt to do so. Bison have enough strength and mass to carry a human, but they cannot be trained like horses. Bison are likely to throw humans off their bodies if they try to get on their backs. 

Untrained horses will act similarly though. However, you can train a horse to tolerate being ridden, but bison will not learn.

How Much Does A Bison Cost?

How much a bison costs will depend on the bison’s age. Generally, bison become more expensive the older they get (except for older bison) because they have proven to be strong and healthy animals. As mentioned earlier, bison do not need much vet care once they mature because they are sturdy. 

You can expect most bison to cost roughly $2,500-$5,000. Here is an example of what a bison would cost depending on age and gender:

  • Yearling Heifer (female) – $2,500
  • Yearling Bull (male) – $2,150
  • Mature Cow (open, meaning not pregnant) – $2,500
  • Mature Cow (bred, meaning pregnant) – $3,500
  • 2-Year Bull – $3,700

The exact cost will often depend on the breeder, farmer, etc. For instance, reputable bull breeders may charge more for their bulls and cows.

Where Can I Get A Bison?

There are a variety of ways to get bison in the United States. For instance, there are bison auctions throughout the country to buy and sell bison, and these auctions normally occur from November to March.

You may also inquire at nearby bison plants or bison breeders to see if they have any mature bison or calves available for purchase. Normally, it will be easier for you to buy healthy bison straight from a breeder.

For example, Dr. King’s Farms is known for having one of the best and largest herds of bison in the United States. They also have a variety of bison, such as the American bison, the black bison, and the Carolina bison.

Another breeder is Ozark Valley Bison Farm from Arkansas, which specializes in breeding 100% pure bison. Pure bison means that these bison are bred to have zero cattle introgression and cattle alleles, making them pure bison and 0% dairy cow.

Author: Allison Marie Dinglasan

Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!

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