How to Start Bison Ranching in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: April 1, 2024 is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The market for bison meat and by-products has grown steadily over the past decade. The global value is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.22% from 2022 to 2026. As more consumers seek healthier, organic sources of red meat, bison ranching presents a lucrative opportunity.

The upfront investments for raising bison don’t come cheap. Ongoing expenses like feed, veterinary care, and equipment maintenance also add up quickly. Still, for those with the capital and know-how, bison ranching can deliver solid long-term profits.

This article will walk through how to start bison ranching. Topics include market research, competitive analysis, registering an EIN, obtaining business insurance, forming a legal business entity, and more.

1. Conduct Bison Ranching Market Research

Thorough market research is essential when evaluating any new business venture. In the case of bison ranching, it’s important to analyze both the overall industry outlook as well as factors directly impacting potential profits.


Details you may learn through market research on raising bison include:

  • Driving industry growth is rising consumer demand for healthier, organic meat alternatives.
  • Over the past five years, sales of bison meat have increased by an average of 5-6% annually.
  • With growing public knowledge of the leanness and sustainability of bison, industry analysts predict consistent expansion over the next decade.
  • When assessing the profit potential of a specific bison operation, ranchers must account for both revenue streams and operating costs.
  • On the earnings side, income can be generated from meat production, sold per pound either direct-to-consumer or to wholesalers.
  • In terms of expenses, some of the largest costs typically include land and facilities for grazing pastures and handling facilities.

With realistic forecasts for both income and costs, bison ranchers can model profit scenarios under different herd sizes. This analysis should guide initial capital investments and location decisions.

2. Analyze the Competition

When launching a bison ranch, it’s wise to examine existing regional operations. Assess the number of nearby ranches, typical herd sizes, and products/services offered. This competitive analysis will help identify potential opportunities within the local market.

Low competition indicates room for market entry while numerous established ranches signal a more crowded field. Compare total county or state herds against national averages to gauge scale potential based on land availability in the area.

Check whether competitors focus narrowly on meat production or have integrated agritourism offerings like hunting trips or farm tours. If all regional players are wholesale-only cattle ranchers transitioning to bison, tailoring operations around visitor experiences may better stand out.

An online presence analysis examines e-commerce capabilities, website traffic, search engine visibility, and social media followings. Tools like SEMrush estimate competitor’s monthly visits and digital revenue while identifying targeted keywords.

Appraising the competitive landscape tests initial assumptions while revealing openings to differentiate. Location dictates options so closely evaluating neighborhood dynamics is time well spent during planning. Modest competition with some specialization can succeed if adequately prepared for it.

3. Costs to Start a Bison Ranching Business

To start raising bison, you must spend money to make money. New bison operations spend on cattle herds, tools, office space, bison farming employees, feed, and more.


Startup Costs

  • You need enough land for all your cattle. At average cropland rates of $4,100 per acre, this totals just over $1 million simply for pasture land. Expanding up to 100-200 head would require 500+ acres, pushing $2 million+. In general, deer farms, bison ranches, hog farms, and similar enterprises require a lot of land for the animals to graze and live on.
  • Plan around $75,000 for a facility with capacity for 150 bison. This may vary depending on the average live weight.
  • Fencing also demands serious consideration given bison’s tendency to rub and ram enclosure posts. Estimate a $10 per foot price tag for sturdy five-barbed wire fencing.
  • Administrative fees from business formation and licensing should be budgeted as well. Plan for $1,000 or more to establish necessary corporate entities depending on location.
  • Annual liability coverage is non-negotiable when managing 1,500lb animals, expect premiums of around $5,000.

In total, the high-end estimate for launching a bison ranch approaches $3 million when accounting for land, buildings, livestock, equipment, and initial staffing. Finding success in raising domestic animals or wild animals takes ongoing research and investment.

Ongoing Costs

  • Plan to supply supplemental hay and grain for added winter nutrition and to encourage herd growth. Annual feed outlays often exceed $100 per bison.
  • Vaccination schedules, antibiotics during calving season, and basic herd health monitoring also add up. This generally falls between $50-75 per head per year.
  • Plan around 5% of the initial infrastructure investment per year for replacements and repairs.
  • Employing a ranch foreman at a competitive salary of $50,000 plus housing constitutes a fixed yearly expense.
  • The more breeding stock you home, the more equipment, food, and utility expenditures will arise.

With bison gaining steady traction as an organic red meat choice, market conditions point towards sustained profitability. But just like the animals themselves, launching a successful bison production ranch demands patience and determination to withstand high startup costs.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

When launching any U.S. business, owners must legally register under one of four main entity types: Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), or Corporation. For bison ranchers, liability exposure from large animal interactions warrants careful consideration when selecting.

Sole Proprietorship

A Sole Proprietorship constitutes the simplest framework – no formal company registration is required beyond standard business licenses. Owners personally hold all assets and debts. While convenient initially, any legal action directly impacts personal finances.


Partnerships allow multiple owners to jointly operate and assume debts/liabilities together. Details are outlined in Partnership Agreements regarding profit-sharing, responsibilities, and changes in ownership. This spreads risk across partners and enables tapped resources for growth. However, similar to Sole Proprietors, Partners directly shoulder legal liability.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

For ranchers seeking limited liability protection plus business credibility, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) offers the best fit. LLC registration formally separates business and personal assets, only entity assets within the company itself are legally targeted if sued. This shields owner’s homes if accidents occur.


Corporations also limit financial liability yet have stricter operation and ownership regulations. Significant legal paperwork must be continually filed in each state where business is conducted. Ownership shares cannot adjust freely without complex transactions.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

With any U.S. business venture, formally registering tax identifiers represents a required step for federal and state compliance. For bison ranch operations, owners must apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The EIN essentially functions as a Social Security Number for your company as it relates to tax liabilities. The unique 9-digit code links sales activity, tax payments, and employee payroll under one tracked business entity.

Navigating to the IRS EIN Assistant site, you will confirm whether your operation should register as a Ranch or Farm category when selecting the business type. From there, answer eligibility queries until reaching the official application page.

Once submitted, save the official IRS notice containing your new EIN – this functions as your entity’s registered tax ID moving forward. Expect to reference this on annual reporting documents.

If selling bison products in-state, additionally complete state/local licensing to collect/remit sales tax in applicable jurisdictions. Searches like Avalara’s licensing tool identify registration procedures for your address. Common forms include business license applications, seller’s permits, and food establishment permits if serving meat directly.

6. Setup Your Accounting

Properly managing financials should be a top priority when launching any successful company. For bison ranchers tracking numerous transactions from feed purchases to veterinary bills, establishing organized accounting early on saves massive headaches down the road.

Open a Business Bank Account

Begin by separating personal and business finances. Open dedicated small business bank accounts to use for all operational dealings. This distinguishes activity when filing taxes and makes reconciling simpler.

Accounting Software

Use accounting software like QuickBooks to sync new business accounts for automated logging. QuickBooks synthesizes transactions into reports detailing payables, profitability, tax liabilities, and more based on your ranch’s profiles. Cloud-based access enables remote visibility for owners when on the range.

Hire an Accountant

Supplementing with an external accountant who understands agriculture nuances takes stress off owners to focus on daily ranch workings. Quarterly reviews of reconciliations and cash flow analysis can indicate areas needing tighter control.

Apply for a Business Credit Card

As revenue expands, applying for a business credit card also simplifies tracking and builds credit history. Business card limits relate more to company revenue than personal scores. Maintain minor recurring purchases here too like fuel for transport vehicles.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Before welcoming any visitors or generating sales, bison ranch owners must ensure all required state and federal permissions are secured. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

The purpose of your ranch plays a role in the licensure you require. Whether you are a bison producers, work in bison meat, or bison leather, your permits will differ. Having prior livestock handling experience may help you get in touch with the right governing bodies.

At the federal level, the USDA issues operating permits under extensive animal welfare standards. All commercial livestock enterprises must demonstrate proper facilities, nutrition plans, and health protocols that align with humane, ethical treatment practices.

Schedule inspections of your fences, handling systems, and herd health records. Given bison’s unpredictable nature compared to cattle, emphasize worker safety training too. USDA agents will validate the capacity to house animals safely long-term.

Certain states add supplementary registration criteria like the Board of Animal Health in Minnesota. Their “farmed Cervidae” license categorizes bison under non-traditional livestock and requires extra insurance policies. Similarly, Wisconsin confirms county-specific permits to sell meat products.

If offering visitor tours, agritourism registrations also apply. States like Texas limit liability for working farms open to public recreation. Joining associations like Farm Stay U.S.A. unlocks wider promotional networks too.

Don’t overlook municipality laws either. Any staff housing may mandate commercial rental permits. Specific counties enforce strict waste management plans – bison generate considerable manure volumes. Approving designs ahead of building avoids tear-down orders.

8. Get Business Insurance

Operating a bison ranch brings inherent risks from housing unpredictable one-ton animals. Business insurance supplements LLC protections to shield owners financially when the unexpected occurs. While adding overhead, proactive policies prevent massive liabilities if sued or catastrophes hit.

Picture fences failing after storms and American bison escaping onto roads. A motorist was severely injured after striking loose livestock. The vehicle and medical damages would fall directly on ranch owners without comprehensive insurance.

If injured, astronomical medical bills follow, again solely owner liability absent coverage. Even minor veterinary mishaps incur hefty fees multiple times for the entire herd. Unplanned six-figure hits bankrupt without the right policies guarding against scenarios like these.

Structured correctly, business insurance absorbs damages on the company’s behalf contained to certain limits via claim payouts. Common policies like General Liability guard facilities, paying 3rd party bodily/property harm like visitor accidental injuries or damaged vendor vehicles onsite.

Adding supplemental Ranch & Farm coverage protects grazing land and livestock itself if say, an illness spreads requiring culling portions of the entire herd. While premiums add monthly overhead scaler policies cap the maximum outlays businesses withstand per incident. Compared to astronomical court judgments, this business cost proves vital.

9. Create an Office Space

When starting a bison operation, designating administrative and meeting spaces increases efficiency during key planning and peak visitor months. Separate from barns, this base facilitates owner focus when coordinating with veterinarians, processing sales, or receiving new guests.

Ranch Outbuilding

Converting an existing ranch outbuilding provides the most convenient daily access. Utilize an existing barn room or guest suite during off-seasons as a makeshift office. The owner saves commuting while working in the central operations. Downsides include distractions from routine site happenings that hamper deep strategy sessions.

Home Office

A home office works for sole proprietors not requiring extensive client meetings. Dedicate a spare bedroom to house essentials like multi-line phones, cloud computing subscriptions, and the often-vital coffee pot supply! Write-offs for utility costs and equipment apply as well. Just beware of tax code limits on deductible meals or mileage.

Coworking Office

For larger partnerships needing frequent legal or veterinary consultations, dedicated coworking spaces in the nearest metro area serve groups well. Noisy distractions disappear while gaining office infrastructure without heavy capital investments. Membership plans through companies like WeWork grant meeting room access by the hour.

10. Source Your Equipment

Launching a properly equipped bison operation requires considerable gear for handling animals, maintaining land, and transporting products to market. New entrepreneurs balance cost savings against reliability when procuring essential equipment.

Buy New

Buying new through dedicated ranch suppliers like Double J ensures the latest designs are vetted for performance with bison specifically. While premium packages carry higher price tags, new systems should operate issue-free for years driving value long-term.

Buy Used

Local routes like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist efficiently tap area rancher networks parting with functional equipment affordably due to upgrades or closures. This grassroots access means inspecting firsthand and negotiating to optimize value.


For peak seasonal needs around harvesting or tourism months, rental contracts allow adjusting capacity without huge ownership costs. National groups like United Rentals deliver equipment and remove items seamlessly after use. Paying weekly rates and then stopping plans offers flexibility for variables like weather or visitor volumes.


Leasing agreements give another alternative to securing necessities without major out-of-pocket hits. While credit checks apply and lengthier contracts lock rates in, packages can bundle product maintenance or upgrades within monthly expenditures. This avoids unexpected service bills while keeping gear modernized constantly.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Distinguishing a bison ranch in the market starts with nurturing a professional brand image. From logos to websites, defining visual identity assets promotes memorability and trust with patrons. Investing in quality branding also sets firms apart from competitors.


Get a Business Phone Number

An official business phone line paves the way for outreach. Services like RingCentral provide toll-free numbers, call routing to cell phones, voicemail transcriptions, and more under flexible monthly plans. Display the number prominently across platforms.

Design a Logo

Design visually resonates most when consistent across touchpoints. Develop a versatile ranch logo through online tools such as Looka to anchor websites, signage, merchandise, and advertisements. Given bison roam wide scenic landscapes, nature-inspired icons with professional fonts effectively capture the ethos.

Print Business Cards

Business card exchanges establish credibility quickly when meeting vendors or partners at agriculture events. Department leads should carry cards featuring key phone/email contacts, web addresses, and logos. Value packet offerings from Vistaprint supply 250 cards affordably.

Get a Domain Name

Those great impressions begin online when potential visitors first encounter ranch names in search engines or tourism recommendation forums. Secure matching domain names with “.com” extensions through registrars like Namecheap for branding continuity before copycats arise.

Design a Website

Building sites yourself via user-friendly platforms such as Wix works initially before volumes grow. Their templates streamline publishing pages, galleries, and booking functionalities. However, as online revenues from meat orders or retreat packages expand consider hiring web development pros on Fiverr to overhaul navigation and heighten security.

12. Join Associations and Groups

While day-to-day ranch operations consume attention, connecting within wider bison-focused networks boosts know-how. Industry associations, local meetups, and online communities provide sounding boards to learn best practices. Check out the National Bison Association, as long with local groups.

Local Associations

Regional groups like the Northwest Bison Association open state-level policy discussions for protecting open grazing ranges in the face of urban development. Their resource library supports ranchers for bison and other livestock.

Local Meetups

Attending local agriculture fairs using sites like Meetup to find events connects with area ranchers and 4H clubs parting with equipment plus consumers excited supporting local bison meat or wool products. These small gatherings build community.

Facebook Groups

In online realms, Facebook groups like Bison Producers of North America link thousands of owners across North America trading everything from genetics to financing advice. Member polls produce market research on real-world challenges like pricing models for meat sales direct to restaurants.

13. How to Market a Bison Ranching Business

Growing a thriving bison enterprise relies on consistently attracting new customers while deepening relationships with existing patrons. An integrated marketing strategy spanning traditional and digital platforms seeds brand familiarity locally before expanding reach regionally and beyond.

Referral Marketing

Activating happy customers as brand advocates offers the most authentic channel driving referrals. Identify early adopters enamored with the ranch’s sustainability ethos or visitor experience. Offer modest incentives like special membership pricing to entice sharing on their social channels.

Digital Marketing

Digital tools then multiply emerging word-of-mouth efficiently:

  • Launch Google and Facebook ads promoting farm stay retreats or highlighting ethical breeding. Geo-target nearby cities with an interest in organic meat or eco-tourism. These platforms analyze interactions guiding budget allocation towards the highest converting audiences.
  • Start a YouTube channel documenting daily ranch happenings – calf births, rotational grazing rotations, and seasonal shearing. These raw glimpses build deeper connections with fans who relate to farmers’ lives.
  • Blog about topics like preparing bison meat recipes or managing herd nutrition through harsh winters. Search engines elevate informative niche content driving seasonal traffic spikes.
  • Email subscribers announcing new calf arrivals, exclusive recipe content, popup farm dinners, and other engaging updates. List building accrues a loyal community.

Traditional Marketing

Traditional options supplement digital even as consumer behaviors migrate online:

  • Commission life-sized bison sculptures installed at relevant trade shows or county fairs to instantly capture attention, unlike any competitors.
  • Secure billboards along highways approaching ranch lands. Highlight sustainability values differentiating one-of-a-kind visitor immersion opportunities from mass tourist attractions.
  • Print rack cards for lodging welcome packets at complementary market hotels catering to nature enthusiasts.
  • Run 30-second radio spots on agricultural stations before seasonal peaks to elevate brand recall across geographic areas during key booking consideration windows.

Ranchers wear many hats daily yet still carve time for strategic marketing nudges amplifying hard work. Consistent outreach seeds connections growing revenues that protect beautiful grazing lands for generations ahead. Where pure bison roam wild and free again thanks to stewards dedicated to their majesty.

14. Focus on the Customer

When visitors book rural retreat weekends anticipating peacefully witnessing ethical animal husbandry firsthand, delivering welcoming customer service proves vital.


Guest expectations run high seeking refuge from urban stress. This means guiding fantastic ranch immersion experiences from initial outreach through fond farewells until the next visit. Consistently positive hospitality earns loyalty extending referrals.

Consider pain points during common guest interactions. Visitors arriving later than expected from long hauls could worry delayed check-in forms inconvenient impressions if, say, nudged curtly onto rigorous afternoon hiking schedules.

Instead, a warm welcome at any hour followed by a home-cooked meal prepared especially in their honor reassures better than the best hotel hospitality. If inclement weather unexpectedly postpones a scheduled horseback ride, suggesting cozy living room documentary screenings over hot cocoa turns frustration into a deeper connection.

Ultimately, consistently delivering above-and-beyond personal touches serves the ranch’s unique mission hosting visitors seeking special bonds with the land and wildlife. That connection originates from thoughtful owners first.

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