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Buffalo are different than American bison (Bison bison).  There are Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and African Buffalo (Syncercus caffer).  Bison is the correct name for the American buffalo. A cross between a buffalo and cattle is called a beefalo, sometimes also called a cattalo.  Beefalo males are usually sterile. The European Bison are Bison bonasus.

The average bison heifer does not breed till 2.5+ years, and thus does not first calve till 3-4 years of age; a few can calve at 2-3 years of age.  Gestation is approximately 9 1/2 months (270-300 days; 287 on average). The natural calving period is from mid April to early July. The average bison can live up to 30-40 years, but 25  years is a more realistic age, and in a commercial herd they should be culled by 20 years of age or if they do not have calve that year. Bison do mature slower than cattle and also live longer.  Foot problems and trimming are not needed, and if you have a bison that needs such hoof care it is practical to consider culling them. Although bison may eat less per day (1.5-2#) than cattle, they do require more pasture and space.  Weanings are approximately 350# when weaned at 6 months of age. Adult bison can weigh 1100#. Whenever livestock are sold or there is a transfer of ownership, a bill of sale is required; first call the livestock brand office for advice.  All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA; It is a good idea if you are going to tag your buffalo to place the tag in the left ear of female and for males/bulls in the right ear so that you can visually identify the sex.  This is the same suggested protocol as in cattle. Since 2012 the use of brands and tattoos for official identification are no longer recognized for official identification such as a health certificate, some blood tests, etc. When you do tag your animals we recommend that you obtain the USDA RFID microchip ear tag and the large flap tag so you can use it as a farm tag.  We recommend that you consider the official 840 RFID tag as your farm tag. The cost can be $2-3. The location of the RFID livestock tags are to be in the left ear. In 2018 the USDA decided to phase out the use of some metal ear tags in favor of RFID tags to trace back to origin livestock animals

Fences for bison are different than those for cattle or even bulls.  An electrified sturdy 5 wire or so fence is recommended, along with a secondary perimeter fence that is 4-5’ high to keep out people and dogs as much as to retrain a calf or bison that may escape.  If bison get out they will attack a rider on a horse and/or people who are trying to gather them up as if they were cattle. If on private property and they escape you can use hay to entice them to get back into the area you want.  If a bison is in the public domain and there are people then shooting the animal and immediate slaughter is the best option. If you tranquilize bison or ruminants expect a high death loss from bloat, stress myopathy, etc. Bison should not be kept in the pasture with any other animals, even with wild burros, as they will eventually horn and kill these animals.  Dogs cannot be used to herd buffalo.   

We do not recommend bison and sheep be kept in an adjacent pastures and/or rotational graze the same fields.  If you have a neighbor the bison owner may have to double fence and keep his animals 20-50+’ away from the sheep and runoff from the sheep pasture.  This barrier area can be grazed by cattle, horses, goats, etc. If the bison owner has cattle they need to not bring in new sick cattle from a sale barn that may have MCF.  A quarantine of all new species on any farm is recommended for any species for a month before introducing into the herd or flock. Sheep can be sub-clinical carriers of Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF).  MCF is an untreated neurological disease, caused by a herpes virus. Cattle, deer and antelope also can be affected by MCF. 

Domestic cattle near bison can transmit Mycoplasma.  We recommend vaccinating buffalo periodically for this disease.  The clostridial vaccines can be given once every 1-3 years, depending upon the amount of grain fed.  We do not recommend any grain at all to be fed to bison or buffalo.

Vaccines will vary with each herd.  The clostridial 8 way vaccine is highly recommended if you feed any amount of grain or a supplement with grain.  A test for Bovine Virus Diarrhea-Persistently Infected animals (BVD-PI) is recommended for all calves being worked when they are 4-6+ months of age, or earlier if you are working a group of calves.  We do not routinely use any modified live vaccines in bison. If there is a disease outbreak we will generally use the killed vaccines approved for cattle. Keeping a bison herd closed and away from sick bison and sheep is very important.  If you need to run bison through the chute it is advised you do all of the vaccines and deworming, etc all at once. Due to the nature of working bison and there can be problems/hurt animals just going through the chute once a year is about all that is expected for you to work bison in our area, unless they have medical problems or parasites that need to be treated more often.  Medicated water, deworming blocks and medicated feed (alfalfa based products) are to be considered if there is a herd problem. A closed herd will have a different suggested health protocol than a herd where you bring in new individuals.    

Bison can have the fly and deworming products labeled for cattle, except we do not recommend the organophosphate fly control products to be used at all on bison.  Bison rarely have a fly problem, compared to cattle. Organophosphates are rarely used anymore as the topical permectin/pyretherin category of products are much safer.  A group fecal of the herd is recommended yearly as part of a strategic deworming plan, and to especially include some of the calf stools before they are weaned. We realize that not all herds will wean and separate out the bull calves, yet one does not want an excess of bulls in the herd.  Normally we recommend the pour-on products and feed base dewormers for buffalo. The alleyways and separation gates can be used if only a pour/on is needed to deworm; oral dewormers are difficult to consider but can be done if required. If you have a parasite problem and are giving vaccines, then the long acting injectable products should be considered to also be given/injected.  Before working buffalo in a chute a group fecal is advised; there is not one dewormer which will get all of the parasites. If there are coughing animals tell us before we do the fecal float spin-down, as an added on lungworm check does not cost that much more when done at the same time.  

When working with bison you need to have a buffalo chute and specific heavy-duty pens.  You need to respect their quickness, and their ability to run into the head bunk will indicate their wildness they have retained.  In a pasture you need to be in a “6-wheel gator” or more durable vehicle. If you stand up in the back of a pick-up bed they will protect their territory and attack the truck or gator; stay inside the vehicle.  On foot they will go after you if you are close enough; never walk on foot through a pasture with buffalo. If a buffalo starts to shake their head, raise their tail or kick up dirt like a rodeo bull, then they are agitated and about to attack.  If pawing the ground and the tail is up, then beware are they are agitated. Always have 2 people if you are in a pasture with bison, as one will literally run you over from the back when you think you are being careful.

Newborn calves should be left with their mothers, and the routine injections and tagging we give to domestic livestock are not recommended; the mothers are too protective.  If you raise an orphan calf, treat them as if you are raising an orphan wild ruminant; these orphans should also not go into the breeding program. We have a handout regarding the problems with raising such orphan species, as they will be more aggressive than the average herd member towards humans when they mature.  Lamb replacer should be fed to orphan bison. 

The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic