Milt Bell joined the faculty of the Department of Animal Husbandry at the University of Saskatchewan in 1948. He served as Department Head from 1954 to 1975, then as Associate Dean from 1975 to 1980, and finally as the Burford Hooke Research Chair until his retirement in 1990.
He earned a BSc in Agriculture at the University of Alberta in 1943, an MSc from McGill University in 1945, and a PhD at Cornell University in 1948, specializing in nutrition. In his productive research career, Bell's favourite research models were the laboratory mouse, Yorkshire swine, and Holstein calf. These led to three notable contributions. First, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Laboratory Animal Nutrition (National Research Council of the United States) from 1954 to 1979, he was responsible for developing the first mouse nutrition guide that formed the basis for feeding the 20 million mice used annually in biomedical research in North America. Second, he led the introduction of the lean Yorkshire nutrition standards into the (US) National Research Council Guide. And third, he developed the first commercially practical dairy-calf milk replacer.
Milt Bell was an active member of a small team of plant breeders, nutritionists and chemists that developed canola as a major crop for Canadian farmers. His work with rapeseed, begun in the early 1950s, involved basic nutritional research but also branched into toxicology and the mechanism of action of goitroigens and glucosinolates in swine and mice. He worked co-operatively with plant breeders and other animal nutritionists in defining the detrimental characteristics in rapeseed, which eventually gave rise to the development of canola and the effective utilization of canola meal in livestock rations. Other research areas of interest in which he was active included mineral utilization and deficiencies, water quality, the nature of plant fibre in animal nutrition, and dairy cow housing.
Bell served as president of the Canadian Society of Animal Science in 1952, also serving on the editorial board of the Journal of Nutrition, the Canadian Journal of Animal Science, and the Journal of the European Association of Animal Production. In recognition of his many contributions, he received more than twenty major awards including Fellow of the Agriculture Institute of Canada (FAIC), Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC), Doctor of Science (McGill University), and Officer in the Order of Canada. He was invested into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame. His dedication to the field of animal nutrition was demonstrated by his response to receiving the James McAnsh Award from the Canola Council of Canada; this prestigious award carries with it both a cash component and a specially minted medallion. Bell, the first recipient of this award, chose not to accept the cash award, and directed that the money be used to establish the J.M. Bell Post Graduate Scholarship in Animal Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. This scholarship program continues to fund the education of young scientists and future industry leaders.