Historic $4M gift establishes bison operation at Lakeland

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February 25, 2020
Armin and Rita Mueller, owners of Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk, are donating $4 million to Lakeland College to purchase land and establish a bison herd at the college.
The gift will strengthen Lakeland’s two-year animal science technology program at the Vermilion campus and provide more student-managed learning opportunities for people in the program’s livestock major. With the addition of a bison herd, Lakeland will become the only post-secondary institution in Canada where students, with mentorship from faculty, manage commercial-sized bison, beef, crop, dairy, and sheep enterprises.   
 
Muellers with cheque, students, College president and board chairThe donation also opens doors for Lakeland to participate in bison research projects with organizations such as the Canadian Bison Association, as well as other post-secondary institutions and industry partners.
Originally from Switzerland, Armin and Rita have lived near Bentley, Alta., for 40 years. They ran a successful dairy for 20 years and then transitioned to the bison industry in 2000. “I’ve had a lifelong fascination with bison. I love everything about them,” says Armin.
 
The Muellers’ belief in the importance of post-secondary education, combined with their interest in investing in the bison industry, resulted in their donation to Lakeland. Armin hopes having a herd and a bison production course at Lakeland will encourage more students to raise bison. 
 
“For the students to learn more about bison and gain hands-on experience is going to be fascinating for them,” he says. “It would be great if 10, 20 or 30 years down the road, we see a lot more bison in the fields again.”
 
Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Lakeland College’s president and CEO, thanked the Muellers for their historic gift.
 
 
“We’re honoured that Armin and Rita have chosen to support Lakeland College and our students with this donation to Leading. Learning. The Lakeland Campaign. It’s the largest single gift Lakeland has ever received,” says Wainwright-Stewart. “I admire Armin’s passion for the bison industry and dedication to sustainable agricultural practices. I know Lakeland and our students will benefit from this visionary investment for years to come.”  
 
In addition to providing animal science technology students with exposure to another livestock species, the Muellers’ donation allows Lakeland to expand its training in sustainable range and forage management. 
 
Lakeland is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of its Student-Managed Farm – Powered by New Holland (SMF). During the second year of the animal science technology program, students apply the theory they learn in class to the management of a purebred beef, commercial beef, dairy, sheep, equine or livestock research SMF unit. Because of the support from the Muellers, a new unit  will be created that will incorporate bison into the SMF model.   
 
Dr. Wainwright-Stewart with the Muellers
“We’re thrilled to announce during our SMF 30th anniversary the addition of a bison herd and the development of another SMF unit,” says Wainwright-Stewart. “During the past five years, enrolment in our animal science technology program has increased from 73 students to 163. Adding another SMF unit ensures students can be fully immersed in the management of a livestock enterprise which is key to them developing technical, business and soft skills they’ll use throughout their careers. Work-integrated learning is what makes the SMF learning model so valuable.”
 
Lakeland is in the process of purchasing land to establish a bison herd with the goal of offering the bison production course by September 2021.
 
Photos: Top - Rita and Armin Muller (centre) of Canadian Rangeland Bison and Elk, present Lakeland with a $4 million donation to purchase land and establish a bison herd at the college. Joining them for the presentation are (back row from left) Ed Stelmach, honorary chair of Lakeland's Leading. Learning. The Lakeland Campaign, Dr. Alice Wainwright Stewart, Scott Webb, board chair, and (front row) students Ben Rajotte and Emmalee Williamson. Bottom, Dr. Alice Wainwright-Stewart (left) with Rita and Armin Mueller at the Vermilion campus.