Nov. 30, 2020

W.A. Ranches lays out long-range plan

Plan provides framework for land development for next 30 years to support vision of research, education and community outreach
W.A. Ranches, is a 19,000-acre, 1000-head working cattle operation near Cochrane
W.A. Ranches is a 19,000-acre, 1000-head working cattle operation near Cochrane Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

In 2018, J.C. (Jack) Anderson and his daughter, Wynne Chisholm, gave the University of Calgary a remarkable and unprecedented gift: W.A. Ranches, the family’s 19,000-acre, 1,000-head working cattle operation near Cochrane.

A gift with so much potential needs a strategic plan to ensure that over time, the ranch is developed in a way that supports the vision set out by donors, the University of Calgary, and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) — for the ranch to become a world-class teaching, learning, and research facility.

  • Photo above: W.A. Ranches, is a 19,000-acre, 1000-head working cattle operation near Cochrane, donated to UCalgary by J.C. (Jack) Anderson and his daughter, Wynne Chisholm in 2018. Faculty of Veterinary Medicine photo

This fall, after two years of consultation with community members, donors, industry, and government, the W.A .Ranches Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) was approved by the Government of Alberta, after previously being approved by the UCalgary Board of Governors in June.

The LRDP sets a land development outlook for the next 30 years. But rather than providing a time frame for development, it puts in place overarching guidelines and parameters to ensure W.A. Ranches develops in a holistic manner, responds to changing needs, and engages the communities UCalgary and UCVM both serve and lead.

Ed Pajor

Ed Pajor led the creation of the W.A. Ranches’ strategic plan and took a lead role in consultation for the LRDP.

Jager and Kokemor

Public support as important as the plan itself

Dr. Ed Pajor, PhD, Anderson-Chisholm Chair in Animal Care and Welfare and director of W.A. Ranches, led the creation of the W.A. Ranches’ strategic plan. Pajor also took a leading role in the consultation process to develop the LRDP, along with UCalgary’s Facilities and Government Relations teams.

“My role was to consult with ranch staff, donors, and other stakeholders, and inform the planning group of the activities we envisioned for the ranch, the locations for those activities, and the opportunities the ranch provides that we wanted to be able to take advantage of,” says Pajor. “We had a strategic vision for the ranch, and the LRDP would provide the framework for what the ranch would be in the future and how we would get there.”

When they started the consultation process in 2018, Pajor says there were lots of questions from the surrounding community, including ranch neighbours, local non-profits and members of government, about how the ranch would be used. Would it continue as a working cattle ranch? Would the university sell it? Would the LRDP identify areas for commercial development?

Over time and with extensive communication and community input, Pajor says, the vision for the ranch and its long-range development has been embraced by the community.

“The plan is a document, but the bigger part of it is keeping community in the loop on our progress,” says Pajor.

A centre for education, research, and community outreach

W.A. Ranches will be many different things. First and foremost, it will be an internationally recognized centre for beef and agricultural research, fundamentally transforming education and research at UCVM. It will provide opportunities for other faculties as well, says Pajor. “We see lots of opportunities for environmental and wildlife work associated with beef ranching, too.”

It will also be a place for community engagement and education activities. From 4H groups, to high schools and the general public, the ranch will be a valuable resource to learn more about cattle production in Alberta, as well as provide continuing education opportunities for veterinarians and researchers.

Dr. Jennifer Pearson, DVM, and Lisa Gamsjaeger, a PhD student at UCVM, lead a 4-H group

Dr. Jennifer Pearson and Lisa Gamsjaeger, a PhD student at UCVM, lead a 4-H group from Cremona through a discussion and hands-on session about critical care during calving in January.

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

A plan for future development

While the LRDP incorporates the university’s vision and direction for W.A. Ranches, it's really about identifying areas for future development.

“What we’ve done is identify areas on the ranch that could be used for buildings that would be associated with our strategic activities,” says Pajor. “There are three structures planned for W.A.: calving barn, a bull research station, and a larger facility for teaching and outreach.”

In the short time that W.A. Ranches has been part of UCVM, it 's already become a hub for learning and community engagement. It provides much needed training for future veterinarians on cattle health and welfare, and has become a centre for community education activities, such as 4-H Club calving workshops. It’s even been used by geoscience graduate students to conduct research on radon in rural areas.

W.A. Ranches facilities

The W.A. Ranches facilities have come in handy for cutting edge public health research being conducted by geoscience graduate students, as part of the national Evict Radon program.

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

With the vision for the ranch set, Pajor and the rest of the W.A. Ranches team look forward to starting the work that will see the ranch’s infrastructure develop to support that vision.

“It’s a pretty exciting time,” Pajor says. “We’re just getting started.”