Reviving Canada’s indigenous bison

The population of Canada’s indigenous American plains bison is recovering after the species was nearly decimated in the late 1800s.

The population of Canada’s indigenous American plains bison (Bison bison bison) is recovering after the species was nearly decimated in the late 1800s due to uncontrolled hunting for their meat and hides by European settlers in North America.

In 1800 there were an estimated 60 million bison across the US and Canada, yet by 1899 there were less than 1 000 left. Bison ranchers in these countries are now conserving and increasing the numbers of this species in North America, by breeding these animals for meat production.

The North American bison production industry really began growing in earnest in the 1990s when consumers showed that they were developing a taste for what North Americans see as heritage food. As a result, bison numbers on the continent have been expanding significantly since then, and today there are an estimated 500 000 bison on farms and ranches in North America.

Farmer’s Weekly recently visited Century Game Park (CGP) in the Warkworth area of Ontario, Canada, where owner Rod Potter is successfully growing his bison breeding cow herd to 20 animals. He currently has a total of 45 bison on the 100ha property.

Females not kept for breeding purposes are either sold as breeding stock to buyers from the roughly 1 000 other bison ranchers in Canada, are exchanged for fresh genetics, or are slaughtered for their meat with CGP’s bull calves that have been finished off on the farm’s grass.

“There’s a massive demand for bison meat in North America, and ranchers can’t keep up,” said Potter.