North Dakota Buffalo Association


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Buffalo Production

Buffalo Products

Poor pasture is not only cruel to the animals - it is also financially unsound. Just as a good dairyman provides more feed to his most productive cows, the good buffalo rancher knows it takes quality feed to make money. As it turns out, the more quality feed they eat, the more money you make. Underfed cows don't breed, underfed calves don't grow and underfed bulls don't produce quality meat.

Buffalo eat essentially the same feeds as cattle. Like cattle, they prefer the finer grasses to coarser grasses. Unlike cattle, they will eventually eat the less desirable grasses, thus cutting down the quantity of hay you might need to supplement feed over the winter months. They love oats, and high quality grass hay is excellent buffalo feed. They will also utilize grasses, weeds and brush that cattle won't touch. Don't be tempted to pasture them in stubble, however. It doesn't digest well and has been known to be fatal.

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Pasture Management

Buffalo will do better than cattle on poor pasture. This does not mean they should be crowded into poor pasture, but they are less picky and will eat more different kinds of browse, grasses and weeds than cattle. They also require less protein in their diet to thrive, and generally are more efficient feed converters. Although buffalo will usually get by fine on marginal pasture, they will really thrive on good grazing land. The recommended concentration of buffalo to available land is the same as for cattle. To find out what the animal unit per acre formula is for your region, contact your local county extension agent. Though buffalo can be more densely concentrated on the land, the benefits of allowing them some extra space outweigh those to be gained by crowding a herd. 
Pasture management is vital to ranch success. A moderately-grazed pasture will produce at least as much forage as an over-grazed one, and usually much more, while maintaining a more vigorous stand. Moderate grazing may produce up to 3 times as much as land which is overgrazed. A good rule is to graze off only half the forage, since the yield and vigor varies inversely with the intensity of grazing. When livestock gnaw the grass right down to the crowns, they destroy the root system. This is a concern, since buffaloes' eating habits more closely resemble that of sheep than they do cattle. Overgrazed pastures can lead to severe parasite problems, because worm eggs will be picked up and ingested, thus perpetuating the pests' cycle. Don't forget that leaving a good growth in the fall also promotes prompt and vigorous re-growth in the spring.

An over-grazed pasture looks, to the inexperienced eye, as smooth and beautiful as a manicured lawn, while a well-managed pasture will have a ragged look with large bunches of grass containing many stems. Overgrazing, before the animals have chewed everything down to the roots, will also show a weedy invasion.

Identify the grasses in your pasture and learn the characteristics of each species. There are early-season, mid-season, and late-season grasses. Some turn brown during dry spells, and then green up again when the rains come.

There are three kinds of pasture forage: decreasers, increasers and invaders. Decreasers are those superior forage grasses that decrease under grazing because animals prefer them. Increasers are those that tend to increase under grazing but are inferior in quality and quantity of yield. Invaders are weeds that invade an overgrazed pasture when the decreasers and increasers are eaten off. Invader weeds are generally not palatable, so buffalo and cattle generally avoid them, although buffalo will eat some weeds that cattle will not. Some excellent native decreaser grasses are big and little bluestem, tall dropseed, Indian grass and needlegrass. Typical increasers are bluegrass, lovegrass and side oats grama.

Note whether your grasses are warm-season or cool-season grasses. Big blue stem, a warm-season grass, should not be grazed before the middle of June. It should also not be grazed down to less than 8". Smooth bromegrass, a cool season grass, will go semi-dormant for a time if the stem is grazed before the plant reaches the boot stage (when the head just emerges). If it is grazed at the boot stage, then regrowth is rapid. If it is allowed to head out before cutting or grazing, however, then re-growth will not occur.

These two examples illustrate characteristics.

Typical Increasers

Typical Decreasers

Typical Increasers Typical Decreasers

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