By Neena Satija, KK Rebecca Lai
Texas animal owners can rest assured that their cows, pigs, horses — even rhinos and elephants — are protected under the state's agriculture code if they wander off their property.
But until the most recent legislative session, bison weren't safe.
Senate Bill 174, authored by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, changes that. The bill adds lost bison to the list of possible “estray livestock” protected by state law. If they break through a fence, as some strong animals are wont to do, whoever finds them must try to locate their owner. If that doesn't work, local authorities must hold the livestock; they can sell them at a public auction if they remain unclaimed for more than two weeks.
“Bison producers in Texas were pretty well left out when it came to a legal structure for handling stray animals,” said Donnis Baggett, who has a ranch near College Station with more than 50 bison on it. “We've got a big chunk of our money tied up in those animals, and we can't afford for some yahoo to shoot them if they have [happen\ to get out.”
Baggett said including bison under state law is even more important as the industry grows, both within Texas and nationwide. The demand for bison meat, considered healthier than beef from cattle because of its lower fat and calorie content, has skyrocketed in the past decade, along with the price.
“It used to be kind of a foodie thing, but it's more mainstream now,” Baggett said. “You can get a bison burger at Fudd- ruckers, last I heard.”
Most Texas bison ranchers have small herds; so losing even a few animals is a big deal. More....