8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

8th White Bison born to Herd at Sioux Valley Dakota Nation

With a new white bison calf joining the herd in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, community members say it’s a sign to get back to living in balance with nature.

 The calf born on April 16 is the eighth white bison to be born on the First Nation in as many years. They are part of a herd of 104 bison in the community about 40 kilometres west of Brandon, Manitoba.  

 “The white buffalo is a blessing and a warning for our people, not just Native people but all people,” said Kevin Tacan, one of the community’s spiritual advisors, whose family also takes care of the herd.

 Tacan said climate change is noticeable not only to us, but to animals as well

 “They’re starting to come back, reminding us that we’re supposed to be living in balance with nature,” he said.

 “We’re supposed to be living in balance with the animals and the natural world, and we’re not doing that.”

 Tacan said First Nations have a special relationship with bison.

 “We have a very close, spiritual relationship with the buffalo, because we both experienced genocide,” he said.

 “And right now we’re getting our apologies from governments, but there are no apologies coming for the buffalo herd yet, and it’s something we’d like to see down the road.” 

He said the bison are there for community members and other folks who come and pray. 

“They pray for relatives who are sick or who are struggling in life with addictions or anything like that,” he said.

“They’re all different tribes that are coming here and doing their ceremonies here.”

Tobacco offerings tied in colourful fabrics line the fence, left by previous visitors. 

“The buffalo would come and check them out, and listen to their prayers and then hopefully they’ll carry our prayers for the year, so that we can live a healthier, happier life,” said Tacan. 

Keeping the herd wild

Tony Tacan, Kevin’s brother, is the community herd rancher, and a council member.

He said this is the second bison herd they started after being given a white bison by the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg in 2010. 

His family takes care of the bison, along with their horses. 

“We took the responsibility on for the community, to ensure that they’re fed, watered, cared for,” said Tony Tacan. 

“We’ve been doing that for so many years now.”

He said his brothers and cousins help out, along with his sons and nephews. 

“We expect to keep them wild, we don’t want to domesticate them,” he said.

“That’s not the way of our people.” 

Tony Tacan said there will be upcoming changes to the area, with a cement pad created for the elders’ handi-van, and signs on the main road directing people to the compound. A space for gatherings is also in the works. 

“We make sure we have a place for people to come and pray; it offers people hope,” he said.

“Times being what they are, we need them to come here and feel better.” 

(From The CBC)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Body Condition Scoring Guide for Bison

Canada has developed detailed national guidelines or Codes for the care and handling of farm animals, including bison and poultry. The Codes serve as the national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices.

The writers of these codes come together from a wide background of experience in studying and handling specific animals. They meet together and make decisions on what Canadian recommendations should be for each species.

Roy Lewis, DVM, is a veterinarian who served on the committee for the updated 2017 Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison. The decision makers of these codes come from a wide background of experience in studying and handling buffalo.

Dr Roy Lewis, an Alberta veterinarian who has worked with bison many years and served on the committee updating the National Canadian “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison,” sent me links to the Canadian bison codes.

He is also helping plan the International Bison Convention to be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, July 12-15, 2022, and has served as a part-time technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison was released in 2001 and updated in 2017. In Canada, scoring bison in your herd is considered an important management tool that allows ranchers to monitor and evaluate their feeding programs—and to adjust as needed.

The following comes from Appendix C of the Canadian code which discusses Body Condition Scoring. Much of this is adapted from What’s the Score: BisonBody Condition Scoring Guide from Alberta Agriculture.

Bison Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a method of assessing the amount of fat cover on an animal, Since hands-on examination is impractical with bison the 5 point system for bison uses primarily visual clues.

The BCS system is a 5-point scale where a score of 1 means that the animal is extremely thin or emaciated and a score of 5 means that the animal is very fat. 

Bison’s nutritional requirements and feed intake vary with day length/season

A certain amount of weight loss is expected over the winter months. However, to accommodate this winter weight loss, bison need to be in good condition in the fall. Adult bison should not lose more than 1 to 1.5 body condition score during the winter feeding.

This table outlines target BCS for different classes of bison at different times of the year, generally scoring 3 to 5.

Table C.1 – Seasonal body condition score targets for breeding herds1

There are several features of bison anatomy that make condition scoring bison different from scoring cattle. Special attention is given to the hip bones, rump and hump.  

Body condition scoring should be performed using a consistent procedure by an experienced person or one who has been mentored in the process. Evaluate the key landmarks of the hump, ribs, spine, hip bones, rump and tail head, and then take in the overall appearance of the animal.

Consider factors such as hair coat and the animal’s age, and then record the score on a 1 to 5 scale; half points (2.5/5) or a range (2–3/5) may be used, especially if the scoring is visual only.

All animals should be evaluated and scored if possible, or if that is impractical, a large cross-section of each class of animal in the herd should be scored. Determine the average for each class and note any particularly thin or fat animals.

Adjust feeding and management as necessary in order to meet BCS targets and take corrective action for individuals outside of the target ranges. 

What’s the Score?

BODY CONDITION SCORING CAN HELP BISON producers manage their herd for optimal health, production, and profitability. Body condition refers to the amount of fat that an animal is carrying. Body condition scoring is designed to estimate the amount the fat the animal has. It is a useful management tool that helps farmers and ranchers do a better job feeding their stock.


THE FIRST BODY CONDITION SCORING SYSTEM was developed for sheep because producers could not determine how fat or thin a ewe was when she was in fleece. The manual palpation method for determining BCS was developed to overcome this problem. This system was later adapted for use with beef and dairy cattle and later for bison.

The system presented for bison in this article has been adapted from the beef and dairy cattle 5 point scale. A body condition score (BCS) of 1 indicates that the animal is very thin. A BCS of 5 indicates that it is very fat. Since bison are seldom caught in a squeeze to allow a “hands on” body condition scoring system, most of the criteria used to assess the animal are visual clues.

While learning how to body condition score bison, it is helpful to feel the bison in a squeeze so that you can feel what you think you are seeing under their thick hair coat. Once a person is experienced in scoring bison, visual clues are adequate.


IDEAL CONDITION SCORE DEPENDS ON THE TIME of year. Over the different seasons of a year it is normal for a bison’s weight and body condition score to fluctuate. Most people aim to have their bison fat in the fall so that they do not require as much feed over the winter.

Most experienced producers aim to have their bison lean in the spring because excess fat may lead to calving problems. By the beginning of breeding season, the cows should be back to a moderate to good body condition to ensure optimal conceptions rates.


November 4 3-4+

April 2+ 2-3

July 3+ 3-3+

By knowing your herd’s body condition score, you can adjust your feeding to meet the above targets. If the animals are too thin, increasing the amount or quality of feed and supplements will increase their body condition score. If the animals are too fat, the opposite is possible and money can be saved in the winter feed bill.

One must be aware that any change in BCS should be gradual as rapid changes, either up or down, can cause health problems.

Rapid weight loss in fat bison can precipitate a disease called “Fatty Liver Syndrome” and cause death. Rapid weight gains on grain diets are possible but this type of diet can cause digestive upsets and may cause death as well.


IN BISON, ONE UNIT OF BCS IS ROUGHLY EQUIVALENT TO 90 pounds of live tissue weight. The approximate composition of this tissue would be 70% fat, 24% water, 6% protein and 1% mineral (adapted from dairy cow research by Otto and co-workers, 1991).


EXPERIENCE INDICATES THAT COWS THAT ARE too fat at calving (BCS >4), were more prone to reproductive diseases such as difficult calving than cows with lower BCS. Cows that are thin (BCS<2) experience reduced fertility.


There is variation between animals in how they deposit fat. Factors such as age, sex, subspecies differences, and even individual animal variation will affect the score that they exhibit at each of the scoring areas of the body. By scoring several areas and averaging the scores we get a much more accurate overall body condition score for the animal than just using one area. For example an old bison cow may look like a BCS of 2 when looking at her ribs but the other areas indicate that she is a 3. This cow would get an overall score of 3. The table can be used to score bison in the field.

OFTEN AN ANIMAL BEING EVALUATED DOES NOT meet the exact criteria of a given BCS but falls somewhere between 2 scores. The evaluator can assign them a value with a “+” sign which indicates that they are slightly more than the score given but not at the level of the next score. For example a cow scoring between a BCS of 2 and a BCS of 3 may be scored as a BCS 2+.

For further information about Body Condition Scoring see What’s the Score? Body Condition Scoring for Livestock DVD and PDF materials (available from Alberta Agriculture at: www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app08/ppsropintheweb?PubID=100031). 

Dr. Lewis comments

Of course, after studying all this, I had a few more questions for Roy Lewis, DVM, and of course he has more points to make. He’s a believer in this.

How hard is it to learn how to score—are most bison ranchers able to figure it out?

“With bison we’re usually looking at various spots over the animal tail head and transverse processes on the spine, at a distance, so we get a pretty accurate but a rougher idea than with cattle. Bison always look thinner than cattle and that is fine.”

Should the herd score similarly or is there a wide variation in conditioning between the best and worst even in one herd?

“As with any herd we’re always going to get variation–some a little over-fat, some a little thinner but we hit for the average. The thinner ones could indicate clinical disease, age or being low on the pecking order.”

What about those big shedding sheets of hair that hang on many buffalo for so much of the summer—don’t they get in the way of seeing what’s going on? 

“The shed is an interesting one but for those that have still a massive sheet into the summer there is something wrong, such as parasites or malnutrition.

“For example in the Code 1 under Body Condition the lower right-hand picture was one of a heavily parasitized bison yearling of a client. You can see the shed is still pretty much intact in June. This person was losing bison to parasitism and once they cleared that up and the shed was removed they were slick and pretty easy to body condition score.“

How about owners who might be sensitive about how their animals rate? Do they really want to know if it’s not so great?

“Owners should have no issue rating their bison because this is helping them see how their feed program is working. Body condition will hurt the performance, but also the reproductive rate, so it definitely affects profitability.

“Bison will look after themselves,” Dr Lewis concludes. “But if feed is short we need to supplement.” 


Make a chart with the following headings:


TAG #              RIBS        SPINE        HIB BONE     TAIL HEAD        HUMP           OVERALL

Assign score (1-5) to each body area for each animal. Then average numbers for an overall score for each animal.

1Adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.  

2Adapted from What’s the Score: Beef Cow – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-beef-cow.pdf.

3Adapted from Haigh J. & Grinde J. (2007) Reproductive management of bison. In: Current Therapy in Large Animal Theriogenology. 2nd ed. Eds. R. Youngquist & W. Threlfall. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier, pp. 1005–1011.

4Line drawings and written BCS descriptions for the remainder of the section adapted from What’s the Score: Bison – Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Guide. Alberta Agriculture. Available at: www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9622/$FILE/bcs-bison.pdf.

Courtesy of National Canadian Codes of Practice.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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