Bison Ranch Reduces Animal Stress & Handling Time with Gallagher Weighing & EID System
For some, the sight of bison conjures up romantic mental pictures of the American West. For ranch manager Chris Bechtold, they’re the perfect animal to graze the ranch he manages which is nestled in the foothills of Montana’s Front Range region.
Located just a few miles west of Choteau, MT the Diamond 4D Ranch was purchased in 2011. Due to its ruggedness and lack of good hay ground, it had only been used as a summer grazing location for cattle in years past. In an effort to find better-suited livestock for the outfit, Bechtold and his associates chose bison to be their main enterprise upon taking over management of the ranch.
Ecologically, Bechtold explains the hardy prairie ungulates are better suited to the rugged terrain compared to their cattle counterparts since they developed in concert with the prairie. One example of their adaptation to this environment is bison’s huge heads which the animals use as snow plows in winter to uncover vegetation.
To the inexperienced bystander, bison may seem comparable to cattle in many ways. They are both bovine species and grazers after all. However, Bechtold points out that’s not the case.
“The biggest hurdle with (raising) bison is learning they aren’t a cow,” says Bechtold. “They look a lot like a cow and they do a lot of the same things like a cow. But you can’t think about them in cow terms.”
The National Bison Association (NBA) backs up Bechtold’s claims stating on their website, “Bison are not domesticated animals and require different handling than cattle and other livestock … Bison are much more nervous and excitable in close quarters, which are indicators of stress. As such work bison slower, calmer and more quietly than you would other livestock”.
When it comes to management, Bechtold grazes the Diamond 4D’s bison herd year-round on the property with the animals spending the entirety of their lives (birth to death) on the ranch. At around 2 ½ years old, finished bison are sold as meat to Rapid City, SD-based Wild Idea Buffalo Company. The organic grassfed bison brand shares the ranch’s commitment to land stewardship and humane animal handling.
“What makes them unique is their commitment to on-premise humane harvest,” says Bechtold. “They send out a mobile abattoir complete with USDA inspectors and crew of 8. We harvest about 40 bison at a time. This is all done right in the pasture. Upon slaughter, the meat goes out of here as hanging sides, stamped, and ready for sale.”
Along with humane on-ranch harvest, the Diamond 4D Ranch has set out to make their animal handling system as efficient and low-stress as possible for their bison.
For bison, the NBA makes clear: “Handling facilities will need to be stronger and taller than pasture fences. Your facility for capturing, sorting, treating, testing, loading out, or confining your bison should be strong, long-lasting, cost-efficient, bison-specific and, most importantly, safe for you and your animals.”
While the ranch only works their animals once a year, Bechtold notes bison higher susceptibility to stress deems making the handling process as stress-free as possible a high priority.
“When you get bison crammed into a corral system their cortisol (stress levels) go right through the roof,” says Bechtold. “It may seem like a lot of effort and expenditure for a one-shot deal, but again, the stress is huge part and there are residuals from that stress animals will carry with them for a while. So, the shorter and faster it is, the better.”
To streamline the animal handling process, Bechtold chose a Gallagher weighing and EID system. The Diamond 4D Ranch’s complete weigh scale and EID system consists of the TW-1 Livestock Weigh Scale and Data Collector combined with a Controller R-Series Reader and Large Panel Antenna. Together, this setup paired with the ranch’s specially-developed bison management software allows Bechtold to seamlessly collect weights and other important health data on animals in a timely manner with minimal stress.
Electronic identification, in particular, plays an important role by allowing quick and easy data collection from animals as they pass across the scale and through the chute.
“Data goes from the scale head to the computer in our vet shack and all that info pops up on the screen instantaneously,” says Bechtold. “I can have an animal jump in the chute and I will know who it is, we get its weight, the data pops up on the screen, and we have that animal’s history in front of us with everything that’s happened to it and any notes or data I want.”
All this is done without having to waste time or handle animals any more than necessary.
“In and out as quickly as possible with as much data as possible - that’s a win for me,” says Bechtold.
Overall, Bechtold says his experience using Gallagher’s livestock weighing system for bison has been positive.
“It’s sturdy equipment that can stand up to a lot of abuse,” says Bechtold. “As any bison producer knows, bison can be pretty rough on things. So far, Gallagher products have proven to be rugged and reliable.”