How Much Does a Bison Cost?


Written by:  Howmuchisit.org Staff
Last Updated:  August 10, 2018

The American bison, also commonly called the American buffalo, is a bison species that is native to the North America grasslands.  They once roamed in these grasslands in massive herds and became nearly extinct by a combination of commercial hunting and slaughter in the 19th century and introduction of bovine diseases from domestic cattle. However, this species has made a recent resurgence, which is largely restricted to a small number of national parks and reserves.

bison by Royalty-free image collection, on Flickr
bison” (CC BY 2.0) by Royalty-free image collection

How much does a live bison cost?

The cost of a live bison, as with any livestock, will depend on the geographical location, the market conditions, class and its weight.  With these factors, we can provide an estimate, which we outlined in our table below:

ClassTotal Average Price PaidAverage Price Per Pound (Live)
Heifer Calf (heavy cut)$2,250$5
Heifer Calf (light cut)$2,220$5.50
Bull Calf (heavy cut)$2,000$5
Bull Calf (light cut)$2,250$5.30
Yearling Heifer$2,150$3.75
Yearling Bull$2,500$3.95
Mature Cow (bred)$3,500$2.75
Mature Cow (open)$2,500$2.50
2 Year Bull$3,700$3.50
2 Year Bull (breeding)$3,200$2.90

NOTE:  These were average based on auction averages in 2017.   Remember, these averages can greatly vary from the factors mentioned above.

The National Bison Association keeps track of live auctions by following the animal auction results on this page.

According to the National Bison Range, based in Montana, its surplus bison sold for $1,750 on for yearling males and $2,000 for two-year-old males in 2017, according to this PDF.

The Rapid City Journal, even though the article is a few years old, listed the prices of a previous auction, with prices quite close to our averages in the table above.  The averages for a yearling heifer that year was $2,117, whereas a bull calf averaged $1,919.  One bull, in particular, sold for $12,000, according to the newspaper.

What are the extra costs?

Bison, unlike cows, require less hands-on management since they have survived without man for centuries.  Bisons, at a minimum, will require grass to graze, accessible clean water, a secure fence, herd companionship, a handling facility and preventative health program.  Ranchers recommend about 10 acres of grass for every one cow-calf pair, and the fencing set up, at a minimum, should be at least six feet high.  As for vet costs, bison will need to be vaccinated and dewormed annually.

The typical day rates, according to BisonCentre.com, is $0.60 to $1.30 per day for younger bison and $1.20 to $2 for a mature bull.  To budget, when factoring in these costs, it’s best to budget close to $2 per day, and this should cover your vet care, feed and other related tasks.

To get started, bison require companionship, which often means purchasing five to 15 bison at once.  This could equate to as much as $10,000 to $20,000+ for the animals alone.

Susceptible to the many diseases cattle are prone to, ranchers, at a minimum, will always vaccine and will create a routine deworming program.

Tips to know

Federal regulations require all meat to be growth-hormone and antibiotic free.

A three-ounce service of bison has 93 calories, 1.8 grams of fat and 43 milligrams of cholesterol.

According to Penn State University, raising bison, when compared to cattle, is similar; however, bison are larger, stronger and more excitable, which means they will require stronger fencing and handling facilities.

Always check your state laws in regards to liability and trespassing as it will draw the attention of the public.  In most states, bison being raised for agricultural purposes will fall under the same category as cattle, but when slaughtered, it may fall under the same regulations as exotic animals.

Mature cows, on average, can weigh 1,000 to 1,500 pounds, reaching physical maturity at eight to 10 years.  With good management, they can live as long as 30 years.

Some people often wonder what bison tastes like.  In comparison to beef, it’s known to taste slightly sweeter and more tender.

The bison versus the buffalo

In comparison to the buffalo, the bison and the buffalo are the two names we have become accustomed to in the United States, according to NorthforkBison.com.  There are two subspecies of bison in North America:  the Plains Bison, which primarily resides in the United States and Canada, and the Wood Bison, which can primarily be found in Canada.   These two look different from each other, but the bison, in the end, isn’t a true buffalo in scientific terms.  The only “true” buffalo in the world include the African Cape and Asian Water buffalo.  In the end, ranchers refer to their meat as “bison” to make sure the customer knows they are receiving bison, not a water buffalo.  The American bison lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species, as mentioned, live in Africa and Asia.

Bison can forage for its food in the winter by “ploughing” their heads through the snow to access the grass beneath it.  However, if there is no grass available, they can starve, but to avoid this, ranchers will often offer standing hay to throughout the colder months as it holds similar nutritional values.

How can I save money?

Some auctions or farmers often sell bull calves in groups, which can decrease the costs if you wanted to purchase more than one at once.


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