The Parker family (from left to right) Jacob, Dalton, Rosemary, Garth, and their 10-year-old bison friend Gerty. (Submitted)

The Parker family (from left to right) Jacob, Dalton, Rosemary, Garth, and their 10-year-old bison friend Gerty. (Submitted)

Nomadic creatures: Central Alberta family raising bison

Garth Parker and his wife Rosemary Parker are no strangers to raising a herd. However, while they used to be a cow/ calf operation, 25 years ago they traded beef for bison and haven’t looked back since.

One of the biggest differences between raising cattle and raising bison is the labour involved says Garth. While beef cows have a calving season that requires farmers to be quite vigilant and get involved if needed, it is rare that a bison will need assistance giving birth.

Garth says that in the 25 years they have farmed bison, there have only been a half dozen bison calf losses, a much lower fatality rate than that of beef cows where any number of calving issues can arise during the season.

He states in addition to this as they are weened a bison calf is a lot easier to start on grain than beef as you must be a lot more careful with introducing grain to the latter.

In addition to a less hands on calving season, Garth says that bison are less hands on in general.

“Bison have not been domesticated for hundreds and hundreds of years like a beef cow,” Garth says, explaining how they are still wild animals in many ways.

He explains that as nomadic creatures bison naturally roam so when it comes to rotating pastures you can simply open a gate and they will go, where as you may need to herd your cows through.

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While he still loves beef and beef farming, Garth says that as a leaner meat, “there are definite health benefits to bison over beef.”

In addition to being leaner, bison meat is quite high in iron.

While he wouldn’t just jump in the pen with any of his bison, Garth holds a special place in his heart for one of their 10-year-old bison, Gerty, who was bottle fed and has a strong bond to the Parkers.

“They bond to you so much stronger than a cow does,” he says.

While farming bison still has its ups and downs, Garth says that they don’t regret making the switch and look forward to the many years to come of raising bison in central Alberta.

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