News & Events
B.C. ranch finds bison transition a challenge
CECIL LAKE, B.C. — Introducing bison to the ranch has so far been a challenging endeavour for Leanne and Clifford Wiebe.
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BC's Bison Story
BC's Bison Story
Bison originated in Asia and spread into North America via the Bering land bridge at least 300,000 years ago. Often wrongly called buffalo, the bison is British Columbia’s largest land animal, and one of the rarest.
Bison are large, even-toed ungulates (a hoofed mammal) with a keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight. They have strong herding instincts, and while hardy and curious, they are also wary and easily frightened. Their bodies are covered in long, coarse guard hairs and a matted, woolly undercoat. A shaggy, dark brown mane covers the head, beard, and forelegs, and the coat on the hindquarters is short, straight and coloured coppery brown. As with beef cattle, there are cows (female), calves (young), and bulls (male) in the herd.
Bison have spines on their upper vertebrae that support large muscles, which they use to swing their neck and head from side to side, enabling them to clear snow to access their food in winter. Bison can easily jump over 2m fences and can run up to 65 km/hour. They can go almost anywhere and a common saying is “You can lead a bison anywhere it wants to go.”
For more background about Bison click here.
Year End Update
November 25, 2020
- Out attempts to get the BC Game Farm Regulation updated had a couple of setbacks with government priorities shifting to the COVID -19 response and then with the announcement of a fall provincial election.We updated our position paper on the current impacts on the bison industry (dated August 20, 2020) by the current legislation which was re-submitted to BC Ag Minister Lana Popham in hopes of getting a meeting to discuss. This issue had been brought up again in an industry roundtable tele-conference with the Minister and Premier Horgan on May 12/20. This roundtable also included other sectors of the livestock industry. (Cattle/Forage)
- The new cabinet assignments were recently announced with Minister Popham continuing in her portfolio as Agriculture Minister. We hope this decision will facilitate a smooth re-start to our discussions with her ministry staff.
COVID -19 Response and Impacts:
- Our Ministry of Agriculture liaison, Taylor Jeffery reached out early in the pandemic to get a sense of how it was impacting our industry. This was followed by weekly and then bi-weekly check ins which lasted a couple of months.
- Taylor shared best practices documents for farm procedures and assistance programs with the association.
- BCBA and the CBA combined forces to identify weakness’ and concerns in our industry during this pandemic which were also felt in other sectors.
- Food security concerns
- Slaughter/processing limitations
- Export limitations requiring restructuring of marketing efforts towards domestic retail
- Premier Horgan expressed a desire to build a BC home grown brand for agriculture
Emergency Response Plan:
- The bison industry emergency response plan is still in the final draft phase after being workshopped at the 2019 BCBA AGM in Merritt.
- The pandemic has identified the need to add a section of pandemic/infection response
- The BCBA website is now being hosted on the CBA website.
BC Cattlemen’s Association/BCBA Joint Meeting:
- Members of the BCBA Board of Directors recently met by ZOOM call with Kevin Boon (GM of BCCA) and Mark Ishoy (KML Plant Manager) to discuss their new business plan to lease the KML meat processing plant in Westvold.This is a Federally inspected plant.
- This meeting was in response to the insufficient slaughter and processing capacity for cattle as well as bison in the province.
- The cattlemen discussed how they are attempting the shift their industry towards more in province processing of fed cattle instead of relying on out of province facilities. As the result they have developed a BC Beef brand coming out of this plant and plan to expand around the province in the future.
- The two models presented were toll processing (custom) versus “hook” shares that guarantees producers a certain number of kill slots.
- Using “on the rail” processing instead of table top processing to increase efficiency.
- They are upgrading their chilling system during processing but cold storage is limited to 1-2 days. This means transportation and continued cold storage enters the equation.No facilities to hang and age animals. This venture is aimed at producing primal cuts for breakdown off site.
- Challenges for bison producers in BC include supplying the volume required as this plant requires a 6-month commitment of supplying a ½ day/week or 25 animals of plant time.This translates to 100/month or 1,200/year.We currently slaughter about 200/year at provincial plants. There is a need to be working at 85% capacity to make this venture work.
- This points to a need for partnerships with the food service industry but also a deep look into our own supply chain.
- BC Agriculture/Meat Inspection Program Statistics – Provincially inspected harvests
- No stats on Federally inspected harvests or bison sent out of province for processing
- Here is the breakdown, the regions are probably slightly different than last year, Prince George north is “North”, whereas last year Prince George was probably caught in Nechako or Cariboo. Also my Kootenay / Thompson Okanagan geography overlaps a bit. But this gives you a general idea of location and the numbers are as reported on inventory records.
- ( )* are numbers reported at 2019 AGM
- This information is all based on last year’s numbers, next year’s will be a bit different. There have been a couple of farm moves, a new farm started, and two farms presently in the process of licensing. I received quite a few calls earlier this year from people interested in starting bison farms during the height of the pandemic lockdown, so there may be even more farms to report next year.
- NOTE: We have 29 up to date BCBA memberships so at least 22 ranches are not members of the association.
- Julie reports that Dr. Jane Pritchard has retired as Chief Provincial Veterinarian and her replacement is Dr. Rayna Gunvaldsen.
Update of Bison Ranch Census
Julie Hughes (BC Ag Compliance, Operations, and Data Officer)
sent this report in on the registered Bison Game Farms in BC for 2020.
Number of Farms
Number of Bison
- After speaking with the BC Cattlemen’s Association regarding their move to a BC Beef brand associated with the KML plant, this brings up the question about the possibility of building a BC brand for bison.
- CBA has a Canadian Bison Brand already in existence that could be built upon.
Year End Update
December 30, 2019
I hope this letter finds you all well as we all take a pause to reflect on the past year and plan for the year ahead.
Despite the board having had a slow start this year, we ended the year with a flurry of activity. The slow start can be attributed changing faces in our BC Agriculture contacts which made liaison work a bit tricky. Julie Marie Hughes has replaced Lynette Hare from the Game Farm Office who recently retired. Taylor Jeffery who was assigned temporarily as our BC Ag Livestock liaison will continue working with us and has been instrumental in accommodating our tele-conference board meetings in addition to steering us through some of the industry regulatory requirements.
After a bit of a meeting hiatus, the BCBA held its Conference and AGM in Merritt on October 25- 27, 2019. Eight of the 35 member ranches were represented and the majority of the board was able to attend. There has been a sense of urgency to develop an Emergency Response Plan for our industry as well as for individual farms so the morning session was allotted to review and build on the pre-conference work already produced of Taylor Jeffery and Conrad Schiebel. These documents will be available for membership review and comment in the new year.
Also on the speaker list was Julie Hughes who spoke on the status of the bison industry in the province. She reported the current census as:
Vancouver Island / Coast 2 farms 69 bison
Lower Mainland / Southwest 2 farms 15 bison
Thompson Okanagan 9 farms 526 bison
Kootenay 2 farms 126 bison
Cariboo 10 farms 269 bison
North Coast 0 farms
Nechako 3 farms 87 bison
Peace River 24 farms 7517 bison
Totals 52 farms 8609 bison
Nova Woodbury from the BC Abbatoir Association spoke about the challenges facing her industry and the impact on bison marketing and processing. Dr. John Church from Thompson Rivers University rounded off the program with his research on livestock finishing techniques and using drone technology in ranch management. A ranch tour and barbeque at Pentagle V Ranch concluded the program. Thanks to Isobel and Bernie Vere for acting as host ranch for the conference. We want to thank the CBA and Purity Feeds for sponsoring our conference.
On the political front, the association has added our voice to many other agricultural associations who are actively lobbying to have Bill 52 reviewed as many of the proposed changes to ALR regulations will create hardship for farms and ranches all across the province. We are also still actively pursuing having the Game Farm Regulations reviewed and changed to reflect the industry standards across North America.
You will also want to be aware of some other items that we have been actively working on or that may impact you.
I’d like to welcome Chris Kayat and Tyrol Forfar to the board. They are both new to the bison industry and are keen to contribute and learn.
All the best for 2020!
Turtle Valley Bison Ranch
724 Squilax-Turtle Valley Road,
Chase, BC. V0E 1M1
Update on BC Slaughter Industry (Select Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fish and Food)
Bernie and Isobel Vere along with President Conrad Schiebel attended this Standing Committee consultation on June 13/18 in Kamloops.This committee of MLA’s was traveling the province gathering comments from various meat production entities in an effort to properly assess the current slaughter capabilities in the province. Conrad gave testimony on behalf of the BCBA. A common theme was the lack of close slaughter facilities and the difficulty accessing the ones that are currently operational. Small producers are the worst hit as the larger volume producers seem to be taking precedence. There is definitely a lack of Federal Inspection facilities as well. A big concern was the long haul distances required to move animals to slaughter.Many asked for on farm slaughter to be reconsidered.Comments on the recent release of the report have been less than enthusiastic as a definitive action plan to improve the situation has not be addressed.
Update of Game re-designation for Bison.
The BCBA has been lobbying the BC government for close to 30 years to have bison designated as livestock to match other provinces and states.We had been the only province to have bison referred to as “game” however Quebec has recently changed its designation of bison to become game after having been considered livestock. This occurred in 2018 in response to issues with other exotic species.
The BCBA is of the opinion that designation of bison should be consistent with other jurisdictions and legislation.Language in BC legislation confuses the issue by referring to bison as both game and livestock while Federal legislation refers to bison as livestock.BC Bison produces are subjected to additional fees and mandatory reporting that other livestock producers do not have submit.
In discussions with the BC Government this year, BC Agriculture has agreed to review recent trends in agriculture legislation in order to bring consistency into bison nomenclature while reducing redundant regulations where possible.
At this time, the BCBC has not received any further comments from the BC Government.