Larissa Helbig, Bison Rancher
I grew up on a farm outside of Edmonton where my parents operated a garden and greenhouse business and marketed their products through local Farmer’s Markets. When the time came for me to choose my path, I knew I wanted to try something different and to work with animals. I had no real experience with livestock of any kind. The only animals we had on the farm were dogs. Wanting to find a career with animals I attended the University of Alberta and completed my Bachelors of Science degree with a major in Animal Science from the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. While attending university I sought summer jobs on livestock farms with the objective being to get involved with the horse and/or beef industries. Fate stepped in and in my first summer I had an offer to work on a bison and elk farm in Saskatchewan. This was the start of my path with bison and the passion I have for them grew from there. Upon completing my Bachelor’s degree, I went on to do my Master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan for which I researched reproductive physiology in bison bulls.
Through my university career and summer jobs, I met and created a network of mentors that had a true passion for their field of expertise, and that developed a passion in me for bison, the environment and quality meat. In 1999, together with my father, I decided to start my own bison herd. My dad, with farm direct marketing the meat in mind, and I, with a strong passion for conservation of the species and the environment, started out with 8 yearling females and one breeding bull.
Since that time, I have built my herd up to 50 breeding bison cows and manage 120 bison at any given time of the year. Animals are born and raised on my farm and then sent to a small provincial abattoir for harvest and processing. Most of the bison meat I produce is marketed through a local farmer’s market but am currently looking at expanding sales through my website.