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Winter feeding Print E-mail

Feeding hoofed animals in the Bia這wie瘸 Forest during winter has been used for ages. In the 19th century, there was a network of animal feeders constructed in the Forest, where bison and other hoofed animals were fed during winters. Currently, bison living in the Bia這wie瘸 Forest are fed with hay in permanent locations.  Depending on winter weather conditions, bison gather around these locations for the period of 4 – 5 months.  Permanent access to high quality hay limits the natural death rate for the bison population in winter, though simultaneously leads to several months' long concentrations in the proximity of the feeders, which can negatively impact their health. Winter feeding impacts significantly the behaviour, social structure, geographical distribution, density and even breeding in bison populations. Bison use most hay between December until March, which represents in the period nearly 100% of their diet. In November and in April, during warm winters with limited quantity of snow, bison use hay irregularly and spread on a significantly larger geographical region. However, finding food under the snow cover plays nowadays limited role for bison and it is observed mainly on the farming fields and on cultivated meadows at the beginning of winter.

Bison prefer natural ford, which is in short supply in the Forest during winter. Food demand for pregnant and feeding females is high, therefore hay is necessary for them. Dramatic decrease in the free roaming population would allow for significant reduction of the artificial feeding to a minimum level, though it would also result in the decrease in genetic diversity. The lack of winter feeding would decrease the bison impact on local forest and inevitability of conflicts with the local population living in the forest villages or located at the edges of the forest complex.

In the Bia這wie瘸 Forest, there is also a habit of cutting aspen trees specifically for the wild game. In the 19th century, approximately 7000 trees per year would be cut for this reason. Currently, at the end of winter, aspen trees are also cut to enrich the diet with natural products. Such trees are stripped from their smooth bark almost completely. Additionally, young shoots with the diameter of up to 2 cm are also stripped from the trees. The fact that bison prefer natural food was further proven in the winter period 1989/1990. Mild winter with very little snow together with the abundance of acorns meant that bison took advantage of provided hay to a very limited extent and would roam across the whole forest looking for acorns.

During winter time, bison gather around the location of animal feeders,
creating large winter groups with several dozen specimens.
Fot. J. Walencik


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