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Prices at last week’s Canadian National Bison sale were 15 percent higher than last year, buoyed by a $35,000 high-seller.

Sale chair Nolan Miller from Silver Creek Bison at Binscarth, Man., said organizers were expecting prices to be as strong as last year or higher.

“It’s a meat-driven industry and we’re at all-time highs with the rail price,” he said.

“It’s over $6 a pound now, Canadian, on the rail.”

Producers are spending money to improve their genetics because they are making money on their meat animals, he said.

However, the $35,000 price paid for a yearling bull still surprised many in the crowd at Canadian Western Agribition.

You can find all our Canadian Western Agribition 2016 coverage here.

Miller said there are always those who chase certain animals and are willing to pay to get them.

The bull, consigned by Bison Spirit Ranch of Oak Lake, Man., went to Greg Pagan of Snowden, Sask.

One two-year-old bull sold for $28,000 and another went for $20,000.

The top-selling female was the reserve grand champion, a yearling heifer from Silver Creek, which sold for $9,000 to Borderland Agriculture of Pierson, Man.

Silver Creek also showed the grand champion female, a bred two-year-old.

In the bull division, XY Bison Ranch of Fort St. John, B.C., showed the grand champion, and Rough Bark Bison from Yellow Grass, Sask. had the reserve.

A total of 54 animals sold for $433,750 and an average $8,032.

Miller said young or new producers can still afford to get into the industry.

“Heifers have been a nice steady kind of price right through, so it still makes it very affordable to get in,” he said.

“They don’t have to buy a $30,000 bull. There’s lots of $10,000 bulls that are really good bulls.”

He called it a good sign that there were a number of new faces at the Canadian Bison Association convention that was held just before the sale.

“We need to build the herd,” he said.

The strong meat demand comes mainly from the United States. The bison association has estimated that 44 percent of slaughter animals come from Canada.

Meanwhile, the sale marked the first time at Agribition that the bison were sold by video.

Instead of running them through the chutes, organizers took video footage of each animal in the pens behind the sale ring and bidders watched on screens.

Miller said some were skeptical of the move, but it worked out well.

The decision was made as a way to reduce stress on the animals and risk to the handlers.