June 3, 2019

W.A. Ranches opens its gates to collaborations across University of Calgary

New ranch is massive multi-faculty opportunity for teaching and research
Brilliant sunshine and blue skies made for the perfect day to visit the ranch. Photos by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Brilliant sunshine and blue skies made for the perfect day to visit the ranch. Photos by Riley Brand

What do you get when you combine the gift of a $44-million cattle ranch with researchers across the University of Calgary? A 19,000-acre living laboratory. And a wagonload of research fodder.

Dr. Jon Meddings, MD, was among the 100 or so people from various faculties to tour W.A. Ranches earlier this week. It was the first opportunity for the group of leaders, researchers, graduate students, and staff to see the ranch that J.C. (Jack) Anderson and Wynne Chisholm donated last fall.

“I’m intrigued. That’s why I’m here,” says Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine. “Humans and animals co-evolved over millions of years and we share lots of things, so learning about animals helps us learn about people and vice versa. Many of our diseases come from animals so I think there’s potential for lots of things to do here.”  

Muddy boots and big ideas

The tour was a chance for people to meet the ranch staff and get their boots muddy while thinking of potential research, teaching, and learning ideas.

“This generous gift from the Anderson and Chisholm families has created a massive multi-faculty opportunity,” Dr. Baljit Singh, dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) told the visitors. “It’s day one for us to start building. This will be a showcase living lab for the entire university to solve some very complex problems. Not only in relation to cattle health and wellness, but also to use a one-health approach to tackle issues affecting livestock, wildlife, people, and the environment.”

The range of possibilities and problems to solve impressed Dr. Cathy Ryan.

“To me, the opportunities here are endless,” says Ryan, associate dean of research and graduate education in the Faculty of Science. “Any one of our departments in Science could find interesting things to do out here. Also, I can think of so many opportunities for public education (including school kids), field schools, and graduate students. This is amazing!”

W.A. Ranches offering a tour.

W.A. Ranches offering a tour.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Monitor and measure everything

Dr. Michael Kallos, PhD, director of the university’s Biomedical Engineering Initiative, wants to spark collaborations between veterinary and human medicine, engineering, kinesiology, science, and nursing.  

Asked if he had a particular project in mind, he laughed. “Measuring and monitoring everything. So, new technologies for keeping track of animals, new technologies for monitoring water, the air, the soil, and integrating that all together in a way that probably hasn’t been done before.”

But before anything is measured or monitored, Dr. Ed Pajor, PhD, director of W.A. Ranches, is working with the university to develop a clear and strong path forward.

“Creating a long-range plan for the ranch takes careful consideration and consultations both within the university and out in community,” says Pajor, professor at UCVM and Anderson-Chisholm Chair in Animal Care and Welfare.

“Having this incredible ranch allows us to strengthen UCVM’s position as a leader in beef cattle health and welfare. We’re committed to meeting the needs of Alberta’s cattle industry and supporting Alberta 4-H and other programs for young people in agriculture. “

Border collie Mac took time out from his working-dog day to lap up a bit of attention.

Border collie Mac took time out from his working-dog day to lap up a bit of attention.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Cowboy hats off to the donors

While Pajor oversees academic and research programming, the day-to-day operation of the ranch continues under the expert guidance of general manager Matt Williams. Williams, who has 40-plus years of ranching experience, and his team took time to explain the workings of a cow-calf operation to the university visitors. 

“I look forward to seeing where this adventure takes us in the next few years as we ramp up to make this a world-class research facility and a highly productive ranch as well,” says Williams. “Hats off to Jack Anderson, and Wynne and Bob Chisholm. What they did was hugely significant.”

The Anderson and Chisholm families’ gift of W.A. Ranches supports UCVM’s strategic plan to support and respond to the needs of Alberta’s agriculture community with clinical and diagnostic expertise, and research excellence — and to become a leader amongst research-intensive North American veterinary colleges.

Anderson and Chisholm’s gift is part of the university’s ongoing fundraising campaign, Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, the University of Calgary’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history. Funds raised through the campaign will support student experiences, research outcomes and community connections. Together we are fuelling transformational change for the University of Calgary, our city, and beyond — inspiring discovery, creativity and innovation for generations to come. The campaign is currently at $1.18 billion toward its overall goal of $1.3 billion.