By Trish Johnson, PAg, Agriculture Programs Specialist, North Battleford
Craig Conacher started bison ranching in 2013. He had roots in the industry; his father had been in the bison business 20 years earlier before dispersing the herd and venturing into elk.
“The fencing and much of the infrastructure was already there,” said Conacher. “It was a pretty easy shift back to bison for me.”
However, over the years, the bison handling equipment on Conacher’s Mervin area farm had aged.
At the annual Saskatchewan Bison Association annual meeting in 2019, Conacher learned about the Assurance System Producer Program for bison, offered under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. This program assists producers in improving animal welfare and biosecurity practices by providing funding for the purchase of approved eligible equipment. Conacher saw the program as an opportunity to improve his ranching operation. He has 200 bison cows in addition to more than 500 bison he is finishing, so he already met the basic requirements by being able to demonstrate a minimum of $50,000 gross farm income in Saskatchewan and having a premises identification number.
Conacher completed the first step toward being eligible for funding by completing the Bison Biosecurity and Welfare Program training offered by the Saskatchewan Bison Association. They reviewed the Code of Practice for the care and handling of bison, which highlights both recommended practices and required practices for all bison producers, including herd health management, handling and transportation.
“I already had experience with bison, but this training provided me with an even better understanding of their behavior,” Conacher said. “This knowledge is valuable since bison can become unpredictable if not handled in the proper manner.”
In order to qualify for funding, applicants must also complete a veterinarian assessment. Once Conacher received his program training certificate, he contacted his veterinarian to request his on-farm veterinarian assessment. The veterinarian assessed the general herd health, health records and handling facilities on their operation. From that assessment, the veterinarian provided Conacher with an Equipment Recommendation Report which listed the animal welfare improvements he recommended they purchase. The Equipment Recommendation Report is valid for two years from the time of the assessment.
Since the Conachers operate both a bison cow/calf and a bison finishing operation, they needed to improve their catch pens and loading chute. Bison are powerful, potentially aggressive and easily stressed, so they can't be safely herded like cattle. However, bison can still be calmly directed into catch pens for sorting and handling. Some of Conacher’s animals might be worked through their system up to four times per year, so they are trained to be somewhat familiar with the process. Having the training along with the proper facilities helps create a safer environment for both the bison and the producer.
Once Conacher purchased and installed the handling equipment he needed, he was able to apply for his rebate of 50 per cent of eligible costs up to a maximum of $15,000.
Along with the rebate application form, Conacher submitted his veterinarian’s Equipment Recommendation Report, the training completion certificate, copies of invoices for the equipment he had purchased and proof of payment.
“The application process was fairly straightforward,” Conacher explained.
Conacher said he looks forward to learning about other programs he can access through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, which ends on Dec. 31, 2022.
To learn more about the Assurance Systems Producer Program, please contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to be connected with your local agriculture programs specialist.