Last year’s $4 million bison donation from Armin and Rita Mueller, has prompted the purchase of 200 bison and the creation of new curriculum material at Lakeland College.
The Animal Science Technology program in Vermilion currently has four majors (dairy, beef, equine, and livestock), and the bison will become a part of the livestock major.
As the program progresses the next couple years, Lakeland will become the only post-secondary institution in the country where students can manage commercial-sized bison, beef, crop, dairy, and sheep enterprises while being mentored by faculty.
“The curriculum is developed and some will be embedded in all of the livestock classes such as animal handling, meat science, animal health, etc., and there will be a specific bison production course as well,” said Geoff Brown, Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“It will also open up some research opportunities for us which are much needed in the bison industry.”
They can potentially have some of these courses up and running by September of this year.
If they begin the first year courses in the fall of 2021, the second year heard management course could begin in the fall of 2022 on the Student – Managed Farm – powered by New Holland.
Depending on student numbers, he said they may add a bison major in future but for now they are still progressing and on track.
“The bison industry is fairly small, and the Mueller’s wanted to promote the bison industry and their donation has facilitated all of this,” said Brown.
“Some students in other specialties might see the benefits of bison production as well. By tying it in with grassland and range management, it has the opportunity to increase the attractiveness of bison for producers, which is the next step in environmental sustainability.”
Where are these bison? Well, the short answer is that they are still coming – they are currently at a ranching operation in central Alberta.
The college took position of them in November, and Brown said all 200 head are under three years of age.
They are currently trying to secure a land base to run them on and hope for that to happen within the year. He said negotiations have been going on for a while but because they are looking at four – five quarters of land it will likely be a major purchase.
When they find their new location, they will likely take students out to examine or treat or them.
Of course, beforehand they will have to re-fence and build an off-site facility that would be safe to handle for both the animals and students.
Brown says designing such a facility is a great project to have the students work on.
In the meantime, he said they will be able to work with their partners who are keeping the bison for them to give students the experience even if they don’t have their own facility completely established. Development of field trips will also depend on relaxation of Covid restrictions.
Early in his career Brown worked on ranch with bison and is confident his instructors have what it takes.
“Of course bison are very different from cattle, but livestock people are naturally curious about that sort of thing, and it’s just a matter of making adjustments for people that have good stockmanship. Bison producers are really excited about this project and I have no doubt that we are going to have the right people in place,” said Brown.
With pressure on the college to also be revenue generating, he is happy to be able to run an operation right out of the gate and said it may create a farm revenue they can offset some of their expenses with.
He even said in the future they may be able to find an opportunity to work with the business classes. There is potential through Canadian Rangeland Bison & Elk the other students could become involved with marketing their value added products.
“Having this bison operation opens up a world of possibilities for what could happen in the future,” said Brown.