A ride out old River Road in western Floyd County often results in motorists hitting their brakes and doing a double take as they see bison in the pastures along the Coosa River.
Those bison are specifically American Plains Bison. But that’s not all. A good number of Canadian wood bison are sprinkled into Alan Bowles’ herd. The other half dozen of the Canadian subspecies are getting acclimated to the Georgia heat in a small pen before they get cut loose into the herd.
One way observers can tell the difference between the plains bison and the wood bison is that the large hump on the back of the wood bison is well forward of their front legs.
Bowles also said the wood bison are a little shaggier.
That difference is much harder to notice after the wood bison have been in North Georgia one summer.
“My big bull never did put back on the hair he had when I brought him here. They shed this time of year,” Bowles said. “I guess that’s just a nature thing. They came from 25 below zero to 80 degrees. They don’t need the longer hair and I guess they have sense enough to know that.”
The wood bison will grow significantly larger than the plains bison. The six he just brought back are in the 600-pound range right now but will grow to 1,500 to 1,800 pounds. A big plains bison will grow to 1,200 or 1,300 pounds.
Bringing in the bison
Another breeder in the U.S. shared the cost of having the bison shipped from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Indianapolis where he picked his new heifers up last weekend. He said it beats the 2,000 mile trip to Moose Jaw.
He currently has 29 bison on his farm, seven of the 23 he already had were wood bison.
“Those seven are as close to pure bred as you can get in the United States,” Bowles said. “They won’t let you bring the pure bred out of Canada.”
The six will be put into a separate pasture from the rest of the herd this summer to prevent them from breeding too early.
“That kind of stunts their growth and they don’t mature out to a fully developed cow when they get bred too early,” Bowles said. He’ll wait until after their second birthday to put the new females with his bull.
“They’re later developing than a (regular) cow but they will calve a lot longer,” Bowles said. Some will produce offspring well into their 20s. He tries to work his females out of the herd when they get close to 20.
That’s about the only time Bowles will have his bison processed for beef. He can’t tell any difference between the plains bison and their Canadian cousin when it comes to the taste.
The rancher said that keeping his herd is a continual learning process, and an expensive hobby he’s played with over the past two decades.
“I have a lot of people drive up in the driveway and want to look and ask a lot of questions,” Bowles said. “Especially if you get a snow on the ground. They’re beautiful when they’re out there piddling around in the snow.”