Bison producer Pilon conserves at-risk species

A Ponoka County woodland bison producer has teamed up with the University of Calgary and the University of Saskatchewan

John Pilon stands with his two children

John Pilon stands with his two children

A Ponoka County woodland bison producer has teamed up with the University of Calgary and the University of Saskatchewan in the name of conservation.

John Pilon breeds purebred woodland bison, the larger framed sub-species of the North American Bison.

Woodland bison are indigenous to northern areas and Pilon says raising the animal in central Alberta is rare. “Most of our market is in Manitoba.”

The other sub-species of the North American Bison is the plains bison, which have more muscle and mature faster.

Many producers are hybridizing the two species to create a larger, more muscled and faster maturing animal for the market.

“The market is all about meat,” said Pilon.

Pilon is passionate about the woodland bison, an endangered species. “Our biggest interest is conservation.”

A University of Alberta advanced reproduction team working with Environment Canada National Wood Bison Recovery Team recently visited Pilon’s farm as part of the conservation efforts.

“The whole goal is to (save) the genetics of the diseased population to re-introduce a disease-free population,” said Pilon.

His operation was sourced through the University of Saskatchewan website. The University has an off-campus location to research and test conservation strategies with the bison.

Pilon shipped 14 wood bison heifers to help accommodate their research.

The University of Calgary has no off-campus farm and needed a location for their own research. Pilon is allowing their research to commence at his own operation, for their use as a handling location.

Once the universities have refined their conservation techniques in controlled environments, the techniques will be taken to wood bison’s natural habitat to employ conservation techniques on wild populations.

Pilon also had three calves compete in the 2013 Wildrose Bison Convention, show and sale. One of the calves took bronze.