Bison herd to go under the hammer

Bison herd to go under the hammer


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AUSTRALIA’S biggest American Bison herd is up for sale despite concerns a current review of pest animal permits by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) may disrupt proceedings.

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American Bison at Barry McVilly's Laang property.

American Bison at Barry McVilly's Laang property.

AUSTRALIA’S biggest American Bison herd is up for sale despite concerns a current review of pest animal permits by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) may disrupt proceedings.

Bison breeder, Barry McVilly has offered for sale his 100 head herd which consists of eight bulls, heifers and cow and calf units.

Mr McVilly has little choice but to sell the bison as his two properties, located at Laang in South West Victoria, will be sold by auction later this month.

Mr McVilly feared he may be forced to sell his bison herd for meat if prospective buyers were unable to obtain a permit.

“If I miss the boat I’ve got little choice,” Mr McVilly said. “I may lose the whole herd.”

However John Balfour, Biosecurity Victoria’s acting director invasive plants and animals operations branch, told Stock & Land the current review process will not affect applications for pest animal permits.

“The DPI will facilitate the application of new permits,” he said.

But Mr Balfour urged those looking to apply for a permit to do so immediately, as the process depends on recommendations made by the DPI in regard to welfare and security standards.

Mr McVilly said he had received overwhelming interest in his herd, which is a significant sale for the industry.

He has sourced bulls from bison breeder, Ashley Brown, Beetoomba Bison, who imported the first American Bison (five heifer calves and a bull calf) to Australia in 1989.

Most of Mr McVilly’s surplus stock has previously been sold into northern Queensland and New South Wales where they are highly valued by the cutting and drafting industries.

“Three bison will outlast 500 head of (domestic) cattle because their air intake is so huge,” Mr McVilly said.

“They love doing what they’re doing and they like playing the game. They’re a bit like kids in a school yard.”

Last year Mr McVilly forward sold his quota and was unable to keep up with demand.

“My word it’s a sustainable industry,” he said. “There are very few (bison) in Australia and they’re in demand.”

While Mr McVilly has stuck to producing breeding animals, other bison breeders have gone into crossbreeding ventures, dabbled in supplying bison meat to restaurants as well producing hides, which make between $900 and $1800.

“They grow an enormous coat in winter which peels off over summer,” Mr McVilly said. “If you get a full winter hide, the coat is 4-5 inches long and takes a very strong man to lift it,” he said.

The bison’s shoulders are “enormous” according to Mr McVilly, in order to accommodate their large set of lungs. “Bison can travel at speeds of up to 58 kilometres an hour,” he said.

Bison will breed up to 45 years of age, although some females are not guaranteed to conceive each year.

“If you join heifers and their calves take too much condition out of them, then the next year they won’t conceive,” he said.

“If you can give them a spell, the next year you’ll see a burst of growth.”

Two metre high fencing contains the bison on Mr McVilly’s property, although he has seen them contained by an electric wire “without any problems.”

The bison are low maintenance, according to the exotic animal breeder, who said they prefer hay over rich pastures.

“They love their hard tucker. If there’s a tree branch on they ground they’ll strip it bare.”

The breeding herd is due to calve in September; the ideal time according to Mr McVilly.

“There’s plenty of feed which dries off as it grows and that’s the roughage they want,” he said.

And as long as this roughage is kept up, the bison remain healthy.

Although inquisitive creatures, Mr McVilly said the bison are trainable.

“The only problem is when you go to the gate they are there waiting for you,” he said. “They just like to check everything out.”

Mr McVilly said he is still passionate about his American Bison, but admitted he would be a millionaire if he had a dollar for every time he’d been called eccentric.

But he swears he isn’t eccentric.

“I’m Presbyterian,” he said.

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