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The updated bison code of care has a wealth of information

Beef 911: Although written specifically for bison, the code also has good tips for beef producers

The updated bison code of care has a wealth of information
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 2017, new codes of practice came out for bison and veal cattle, following revisions to the codes for dairy cattle in 2009 and the beef, sheep, and equine sectors in 2013. Other codes have also been released or are in progress.

The format has multiple chapters (with numerous appendices at the end) and each has requirements that must be followed along with recommendations for raising bison.

The underlying theme of the codes is always animal welfare. This code is a must-read for current bison producers and those contemplating getting into the sector.

A hard copy for the coffee table or in your library would be a great idea. Show it whenever possible to the public so they have a better understanding about the guidelines we raise bison under. It is also available in digital form along with the other codes at the National Farm Animal Care Council website. Many producers raise multiple species so it’s nice the codes are all available on one site.

Cattle producers will also get a lot of good information out of the bison code. In producing the bison code of practice the other codes were also looked at especially the beef code but also dairy, sheep and equine codes. Additional areas were added that would be of direct interest to beef producers.

This article will look more specifically at extra chapters added by the committee, which was comprised of many individuals involved in the raising, care, and marketing of bison. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the CFIA were also directly involved with input and all changes had unanimous consensus. There were a few additions that other sectors, especially the beef sector, may be able to use in future releases of their codes.

With seven sections or chapters, 10 appendices and 70 pages, it is a very good read and is well subsectioned to facilitate finding the specific topic you are interested in. There is also a very detailed glossary of terms that makes it quite readable for the general public as well. The codes become our connection to the animal welfare practices we undertake and can be used as a means of communicating to the general public how we raise animals on our farms and ranches.

Because bison are very flight-orientated animals, a large section covers low-stress handling and the specialized equipment necessary to process bison. Bison producers have become more adept at handling over the years and there is even an appendix dealing with an animal welfare audit where one can easily document (in a numerical way) things done during processing (such as trips, falls, broken horns, and restrictions on prod usage). The audit can be used to show improvement in handling or goes a long ways to potentially identify ways the handling facilities can be improved.

The bison code covers topics not seen in other codes such as escaped bison. Sections on fencing, processing facilities, flight zones, and pre-loading all help in preventing escaped bison. For security, the locking of perimeter gates is mentioned but it was felt that escaped bison could still happen regardless of how careful a producer is. From damage to fences from falling trees, fences being cut, or even snowdrifts building up too high, escapes can happen and it may be the whole herd. I know several bison producers who always check fences after severe snow- or windstorms. Some good guidelines on how to get help and whom to use may help calm producers down once reading it.

Beef cattle producers run into the same predicament and it sometimes may be a highway accident or rollover with a cattle liner. We must work together. There are people out there who can help.

The code also covers pain that occurs in processing and has requirements for pain control for a number of procedures. These include dehorning (which seldom happens in most herds but tipping is done) and branding, which is clearly stated should not be done for herd identification but is necessary for some regulatory authorities (although branding is no longer required for feeder bison entering the U.S.). The code also covers castration, which is almost never done except for pets raised as orphans.

The code also covers ways to treat pain. Keep in mind all products used in bison production are extra-label, so veterinary prescriptions are often required.

Multiple references are made as to when you need veterinary intervention or when to contact a consulting or herd veterinarian. This more closely defines what a VCPR (veterinary-client-patient relationship) is. With some bison producers in remote locations and some areas having no veterinarians comfortable dealing with bison, this was a much better approach to specify when veterinary or other professional consultation may be necessary.

The last section on euthanasia also really applies to on-farm butchering or putting bison down to transport to a processing facility. This is a very comprehensive chapter including the calibre of bullets and size of guns necessary to do the job humanely. It is a very valuable reference source for on-farm butchers or packing plants dealing with bison or beef for that matter. A few pictures showing shot placement for a humane death are included and I think will benefit again both all our bison producers in Canada but also beef producers or processors.

All the people responsible for the development of the code of practice are listed at the back and if further questions come up they are all available for explanation. Also, the last appendix summarizes all the requirements or must-dos.

The hard copy of the code was distributed to all Canadian Bison Association members and all mixed animal veterinary practices in Western Canada. Copies are available from all bison code committee members.

Please take the time to go through a copy. Even experienced bison producers will find lots of very valuable information. Other countries such as the U.S. don’t have codes like ours, so Canada is again leading the way when it comes to animal-friendly production of meat protein.

For anyone interested in bison or livestock production, the code is a must-read.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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