Turner Bison Program
Optimum economic production is the point at which “net profits” are maximized in a livestock operation. To achieve optimum production, we produce bison that fit their environment, instead of artificially changing the environment (extreme feeding and supplementing) to fit what we think our bison should be. Our ranches are extremely ecologically diverse, from the deserts of southern New Mexico to the Flint Hills of Kansas to the great plains of Nebraska and South Dakota to the mountain savannahs of Montana. Our philosophy is that Mother Nature is far superior than we when it comes to selecting our replacement animals. We expect our bison to grow, maintain themselves, produce a calf and get rebred on minimal supplementation and energy inputs. Our bison graze year-round and are expected to breed and produce a live viable calf every year. Non-productive animals are culled from our herds. If they aren’t productive and viable in their environment, then we don’t want them. Our bison need to work and support our ranching and conservation endeavors.
The Turner herd, which is now approximately 50,000 head, is a “composite” herd of all available genetics in North America. There are two unique groups of bison within the Turner Herd. In 1996, Ted purchased Vermejo Park Ranch which had a small legacy herd of bison (the Castle Rock herd) that had been present at Vermejo since the 1920’s. Genetic testing of the Castle Rock herd showed them to be “unique” within the known bison genome and free from any measurable (now) cattle mitochondrial DNA. In 2009, Turner Ranches partnered with the state of Montana to hold a quarantined herd of bison from Yellowstone National Park for five years for further testing of Brucellosis, a bacterial disease capable of having devastating effects on bison, cattle and elk. Through this partnership with Yellowstone, Turner obtained a portion of the production of the Yellowstone animals and now owns one of the only privately-held herds of Yellowstone bison, thought to be the “mecca” of bison genetics. Both the Yellowstone and Castle Rock bison herds are held separately from the balance of the Turner herd to maintain the integrity of their lineage and unique genetics.
Bison Production and Conservation
Turner Ranches owns grass, first and foremost, which we market through bison. Our ranches are structured for either bison production or bison conservation. Production ranches are managed to maximize efficient harvest of grass to produce bison. Production ranches manage their bison in large herds on range year-round with minimal supplementation for the environment in which they live. The breeding bull-to-cow ratio in our herds averages one bull per 12 cows. Bulls are normally extracted from the breeding herd when they reach five or six years of age. Nonproductive cows (not bred or not bringing a viable calf to the fall corral) are normally culled.
Yearling replacement females are run with the cow herd after a weaning period (under normal moisture conditions). They are selected based on their individual gain on grass and conformation as they approach two years of age. Breeding bulls are selected from long yearling (18 months old) prior to their cohort entering our feeding operations for slaughter. They are selected for their individual gain on grass and conformation. Both replacement heifers and bulls will be selected from the top 10% of their cohort based on individual performance from weaning to long yearling or two-year-old.
Our culling criteria on our production ranches is stringent, cows that don’t consistently produce a calf do not stay in our herd, three-year olds that don’t breed aren’t normally kept in the herd unless there is drought or other extreme conditions. This pushes us to keep a higher percentage of replacement heifers going into our production herds. We let Mother Nature put selection pressure on our herds for fleshing ability, maintenance, milk and reproductive performance. This is multiple trait selection for production efficiency and environmental compatibility.
Several Turner ranches are structured and managed for conservation of bison genetics. These Conservation ranches have herds of bison that are considered unique and important to the preservation of broad based bison genetics and for restoration purposes. Production is not the top criteria in these herds but rather keeping the genetics intact and broad based. Often calves are not weaned and not all open cows are culled. A high compliment of young males will be kept in the herd until they are two years old, assuring that we keep breeding broad based, not line bred by a few dominant sires. Aged bulls in the herds are minimized, with few being older than four-years-old. Conservation herds are minimally supplemented as our other herds. Less stringent criteria are used on culling females. Replacement females may be randomly selected from their age cohort rather than selected by production criteria.
Turner Ranches Prairie Performance Auction is offering animals from the upper 10% of our production herds and a select offering from one of our conservation herds. Because we keep larger than industry standard cohorts for replacements, we have supplemental animals to sell when we have average or better moisture years.