Bison programming kicks off next year at Lakeland College, and a new calf welcomed this month gives students and staff something to look forward to.
Dean of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, Geoff Brown said, “It looks like our livestock numbers are higher than normal, and I suspect the interest in bison is drawing more students. If this can draw students into the agriculture industry it is always a positive. Even if they don’t end up with the species they studied with, they still end up with a lot of transferable skills.”
He said they are really anticipating in-person delivery in fall and calving for bison tends to be similar to a low-input system for beef.
“They basically take care of themselves. With the nature of the species, it’s very tough to intervene at all. If they are orphaned, some may be bottle raised,” said Brown.
Like with a large beef production on an extensive or low input system, the cow might go through the chute once a year. Because there is limited handling, it’s really designed to save on labour.
“You go out to keep an eye on everything, but bison are very protective of their calves and have a strong reaction to predators,” said Brown.
“One day in my earlier years, I was sitting on a quad to watch a bison cow and her calf. As I observed, the herd had grazed in behind me. Nothing happened, but you have try to stay put and try to keep your distance. Bison can be very quick footed, so safety will be paramount with our students.”
He said beef producers are selecting on a lot of traits but with bison they have naturally selected themselves for survival traits. Over time they have adapted a natural a style of selection, for example cows who are easy calvers surviving to calve again the following year, or for calves to get up and suck right away. With a more wild herd he said you have to sacrifice production numbers a bit, but for the most part they are very well adapted.
As for other calving at the college, three beef herds are on campus with the Student-Managed Farm (SMF) – Powered by New Holland including ones ran by the purebred, commercial, and research teams. The purebred and commercial herds calved from January through late March, while the research herd will begin calving on pasture in May so students can study extended grazing strategies.
“Just like with producers, some calve early while some calve on grass and we want to be able to demonstrate both those systems to our students,” said Brown.
“The dairy herd calves out all year round in a continuous system. That’s how they stay steady in milk production, generally with a 305 day lactation. The calves are fed separately so the cow can enter the milking stream. She then spends 60 days in a dry cow pen, before she calves and starts the cycle all over again.”
The college is not lambing this year as their sheep herd was dispersed last summer. Brown said the cost of maintaining the flock as compared to the number of students was not feasible. Without a sheep flock on campus, they simply arrange with local producers to continue their studies.
“We’re always looking at these trends, and the enrollment in all the other species has gone up so much. The four majors are beef, dairy, equine and livestock,” said Brown noting the sheep and bison will both be tied in with the livestock.
SMF students presented the business and production management decisions they made during the school year on April 16. Final exams begin April 19.