Introduction to Bison Handling PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 22 October 2008 19:47

Bison handling, separating, processing... what ever you want to call it, is always a very stressful time for the animals, not to mention for the “handlers.”

To bison, everything and everyone is considered a potential threat from a predator, whether that threat is minor or severe does not matter to the bison.  They can encounter forced crowding, load noises, mothers and calves being separated and the ensuing panic, the smell of blood from other bison grazed by crashing into gates or fences.  There is the shock of dehorning
and this can lead to at the least a very dangerous situation with potential for severe injury if not death from goring, broken ribs or (less common now) capture myopsy. But unfortunately this procedure is necessary for weaning and/or sorting and testing requirements of the Federal Captive Ungulate Policy.

Fortunately with training of handlers, a good flow-through system and patience, the stress can be minimized and the experience for the bison can be made less traumatic. This is important because the more stressful each handling experiences is for the bison, the harder each successive handling will be.

The handlers should know or be councelled on the following:

  • Keep noise level (all sounds, both voices and gate closing etc.) to the absolute minimum.
  • Try to move gently: use as slow and quiet a movement as possible in order to avoid startling the bison.
  • Do not prod the animal with canes or sticks, this only sets up a defensive situation with retaliation and/or balking.
  • The use of electric prods should be restricted only to the most stubborn cases and then only as a last resort.
  • Use gestures, voice commands or flags on poles to move animals instead.
  • Keep unnecessary people out of sight (especially when they are much taller than the animals) as much as possible and use the minimum number of handlers required.

The handling routine should be designed in such a way that the animals are proceeding through the system without too much human pressure. This can be partially accomplished by having a smooth flow with the animals returning in the direction whence they came or are used to traveling toward. Rolling gates in confined ares are generally easier on the animals than swinging gates as the animals don’t get caught or jammed as easily. The more passive the system (Animals moving from the holding area and/or partially through the system on their own), the better the system will work while creating the least amount of stress, again for both the bison and the handlers. Although not as much a problem now as in the past due to more human presence, keep in mind that these are wild animals (or just recently removed from the wild) and capture myopsy caused from being restrained too long or extreme excitement can be very serious usually resulting in death. This was Mother Nature’s way of avoiding extreme pain when animals in the wild were pulled down alive by their predators.

The system you are about to see uses some of these flow through principles in design as the bison are used to coming into the holding areas for feed and water and exiting through the area entering into the sorting alley.

In summery keep in mind that everything and everyone is a potential predator to the bison, especially the mother and her calf, and their natural instinct is flight or fight.  Stand back, take an overall look at the total situation and eliminate as many obstacles as possible while still moving the animals as quickly and quietly as possible through the system.
Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2008 21:23