About MFL Ranches
MFL Bison Ranch Ltd is a family operation. We value faith, family, hard work, 'sisu' and the great outdoors. Most importantly, an honest business is at the heart of our strategy. It is said that 'If you sacrifice principle for short term gain, eventually you end up with neither'. We're four generations into this industry and have no intent to compromise the principles that turn customers into lasting friends, advisors and fellow travellers.
We're a great mix of Scandinavian, Lap, Scottish, North European, Yakut and North African blood. Apparently we're also about 1% sub-Saharan African! Imagine a mixed Viking/Mongolian in a MacDonald tartan kilt and carrying a Bedouin sword. That's our composite ancestor! That's either messed up or really cool, we think 'REALLY COOL'!
Dick & Karina Staudinger
Dick (Richard) Staudinger grew up on his father's farm near Sylvan Lake, Alberta. Raised in a proudly Finnish family, 'sisu', hard work, helping the neighbour and 'visiting' were engrained early on. As a kid he loved animals. Everything with four legs and a tail held his interest and he was destined to be a 'cow plumber' from an early age.
An Olds College graduate whose interests focussed on animal genetics, he built up a purebred Simmental herd as a partner in Marianne Farms, a mixed grain and cattle farm he and two brothers started after they bought out their father's operation. In 1972 he married Karina, an English school teacher of Scottish Highlander background, who was born and raised in West Sussex, England.
In 1986, the Marianne Farms partnership was dissolved, with Dick and Karina taking their 4 children, Stewart, Riva, Sarah and Andrea, to Alix, Alberta where they formed a new partnership, MFL Ranches. They retained the Marianne Farms purebred herd and Marianne's 'MFL' tattoo letters became the ranch name. Not short for anything, although 'My Fair Lady' has been jokingly been applied from time to time.
In 1995, Dick fulfilled a long time dream and purchased a small herd of Plains Bison heifers, adding his first bull the following spring. Three years later, he sold all his cattle and jumped into bison ranching with both feet. Karina was initially sceptical but has come to enjoy these great wild herd animals.
Having spent the last 22 establishing himself as a breeder of high quality Plains breeding stock, Dick still gets the odd query from Simmental breeders interested in the MFL bloodlines he developed prior to getting bison. At times he gets the feeling his reputation has greater staying power than his memory.
Despite joking that he's ready to head to the 'old folks home', particularly after sorting animals at -20 Celsius in a howling wind, when an article on bison genomics appears in 'Smoke Signals' you can see his inner child emerge and you may as well write off the next couple hours, because this old dog isn't afraid of new tricks, in fact he thrives on them.
What is 'Sisu'?
When Alex Staudinger was 11 years old, he was told to babysit his sisters. Thinking that caring for little girls wasn't sufficiently manly for a young Finn, he ran away from home to seek employment on a fishing boat in the Baltic. It turned out the captain of the vessel knew his father so reported Alex's location and waited for instructions.
Long story short, Alex went to sea at age 11, and every summer after that until he finished school and boarded a ship to Canada to found a farm in the wilderness of western Canada.
Later, when running up against his deadline for breaking the land that secured his homestead with the government, Alex rode a bicycle from his mining job near the Crow's Nest Pass to the farm, and back again after completing the work on the farm. This was before paved roads. In fact, this was before roads of any kind!
Alex had 'Sisu'.
'Sisu is a Finnish concept and cultural construct that is described through a combination of various English terms including stoic determination, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character. It is generally considered to not have a literal equivalent in English. Sisu is a grim, gritty, white-knuckle form of courage that is typically presented in situations where success is against the odds.'
It was best displayed in the face of Russian Invasion in the Winter War of 1940-1941.
'The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate sisu as "the Finnish spirit" but it is a much more gutful word than that. Last week the Finns gave the world a good example of sisu by carrying the war into Russian territory on one front while on another they withstood merciless attacks by a reinforced Russian Army. In the wilderness that forms most of the Russo-Finnish frontier between Lake Laatokka and the Arctic Ocean, the Finns definitely gained the upper hand.' Time Magazine, January 8, 1940
Stewart & Mariem Staudinger
Stewart Staudinger grew up with MFL Ranches Simmentals and couldn't think of any worse career than chasing cows. As a kid he loved aviation, science, engineering, aviation, math, history and aviation. He also shared a love for the outdoors with his Dad, and spend much of his spare time hunting, fishing with his grandfather and pursuing a military career through the Air Cadets, where he developed his love for bushcraft and survival skills.
In 1991, Stewart moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a career in the Royal Air Force. He obtained an Honours Degree in Aeronautical Engineering and obtained his wings as a helicopter pilot in 1999. In early 2000, he was posted to Northern Ireland and started a 3 year tour on a 21 on, 7 off schedule.
Being a young single officer, he took advantage of this schedule and added a few days annual leave to his 7 days stand-down every couple of months, jumped on a flight and headed home. Bison had appeared on the MFL Ranches hills and they were, 'way more interesting than cattle!'
The seed had been planted. As they say, you can take the boy off the ranch, but you can't wash the ranch off the boy.
In 2003 Stewart was on exercise in Morocco, in North Africa. There, in the hotel his Squadron was accommodated in, he met Mariem, an Arabic and French Linguist who was doing a college diploma in Tourism. Mariem was raised on a large fruit farm near Marrakech, where her brothers all still work. In 2005 they were married in the little church in Haynes, Alberta. in 2011, Sophia was added to the Staudinger clan.
By the time his initial pension option had arrived, Stewart was a Sqn Ldr (Major equivalent), commanding a training flight and with 15 months in Iraq in his resume, including 8 months flying UK Special Forces. He had also placed in the top 3 on his Intermediate Command and Staff College course (Masters level Diploma in International & Strategic Studies). All the normal prerequisites for ranching in central Alberta!
Joking aside, the choice between pushing for higher command or heading back to the ranch was on the table. Having seen too many colleagues miss their children's formative years through the pressures of military life, and with a baby at home and another on the way, it was time to change careers. That and Dick was getting tired of ranching on his own and needed a younger, stronger back to take over the heavy lifting that comes with managing a ranch.
In early 2013, Stewart and Mariem moved back to Alberta and re-joined the family ranch. That July, Eva arrived in the world and joined the family.
Stewart initially joined the RCAF Air Reserves, and flew helicopters with 408 Sqn out of Edmonton part-time until March 2017.
With nowhere near the experience of his father in animal husbandry and genetics, it's been a steep learning curve. However, a science background and passion for genetics, holistic rangeland management and soil biology is all put to good use. The fact that he loves all things mechanical, welding and fabricating, is also handy.
So, with a degree in applied science in hand, and a keen desire to get his feet under the agricultural table, Stewart attended a Holistic Management school with Holistic Management International in early 2018, hosted by the Durham Ranch in Wyoming. His parents followed up in 2019. This reinforced the science behind Holistic Planned Grazing and ecosystem management, but did not provide enough background on business management and finance to truly get a grip on a 'plan' for the business.
With this in mind, Stewart attended the 'Ranching for Profit' Business School put on by Ranch Management Consultants in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in early 2021. This is an excellent business school and has revolutionised Stewart's thinking and management decisions regarding the future of MFL. An aggressive program to convert to Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing (AMP), the term the scientific community uses to describe Holistic Planned Grazing, is now underway at MFL.
One of Mariem's brothers is a beekeeper on the farm in Morocco and she figured bees would be good for the ranch. It turns out that Dick's Dad kept bees back in the 1950s and 1960s so Stewart has recently rekindled the family beekeeping hobby on the ranch. With an old Air Cadet and hunting buddy keen to get involved, the ranch now has 32 hives managed by a local beekeeper and a variable 'herd' of Warre/Langstroth hybrid hives owned by Stew and Derek.