Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Drivers of Care: Building a winner

Posted: March 12, 2015

Game changer. Leadership initiative. Once-in-a-lifetime legacy opportunity.

All of these describe the recent donation of $5 million by a local ranching family to support beef cattle welfare research at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. A main focus of the endowment is to deliver practical, science-based animal care and welfare information that farmers and ranchers can use to improve their operations.

J.C. (Jack) Anderson and his daughter Wynne Chisholm from W.A. Ranches west of Calgary made the gift, which establishes the Anderson-Chisholm Chair in Animal Care and Welfare, to promote research and innovation in Alberta's cattle industry and beyond. The inaugural Chair is well-known leading welfare researcher and thinker Dr. Ed Pajor.

"Animal care and welfare is at the core of our values and philosophies as ranchers," says Wynne Chisholm. "It's an area where we think this type of endowment is needed and can really make a difference. Our industry can benefit greatly by having the capacity in Canada to be a true leader in animal care and welfare research."

Perspectives on the potential

Here are some insights from Chisholm and Pajor on what this opportunity represents and the impact it can have on the industry locally, nationally and internationally:

Creating a 'win-win-win' environment. "If we can use new knowledge to build on current management practices with new techniques and new approaches, then everyone benefits - the animal, the rancher and society," says Pajor.

Building on a tradition of responsible practices. "I think pretty much every farmer and rancher has always been interested in farm animal care," says Chisholm. "Years ago they would have called it something like animal husbandry. It would have just been a part of their ongoing practice for how they looked after their animals. It has been important to us at our ranch because even in things like our hiring practices, for example when we're interviewing people, we're always asking questions to make sure good welfare is part of the mindset.

"We try to integrate our beliefs in animal care and welfare throughout the whole production cycle and with everyone involved. This has always been a grounding foundation for our operation. At the same time, we always want to learn new things and find new ways to improve. To do that we need strong resources in research."

Boosting stability and capacity. "The endowment model for this funding means that it is the interest from the $5 million that will be used for research, so essentially it creates a chair in perpetuity. The new support will greatly increase our capacity to conduct research in animal care and welfare. Just as important, it will provide us with long-term stability that facilitates sound long-term planning. It represents a real turning point for cattle welfare research in Alberta and nation-wide."

Part of sustainability. "As cattle ranchers, we think Albertans raise some of the best beef in the world," says Chisholm. "I think some of this research will help demonstrate and showcase our deep interest in our animals, how they are cared for and how they make it through the food chain. I really like Temple Grandin's line that animals should have a life worth living. And I think our animals do. They're generally calm and quiet. They're contented. We want that to always be a top priority and an area where our industry is a leader both now and in the future This is part of the sustainability of ranching in Alberta."

Hitting the ground running. "Immediately this support allows us to expand our existing work in beef care and welfare," says Pajor. "Work on castration and pain mitigation. Work on calf vitality. Work on the exploring the welfare implications of the cow-calf bond. Research into the effects of different processing approaches on stress in animals. At the same time, we can increasingly incorporate new areas of research as we develop longer-term plans.

"Overall, the aim of the chair is really to be working in practical areas in beef cattle care and welfare. We also want to develop effective outreach activities to get the information generated by this research out to producers and the public."

Supporting industry success. "Our industry is making progress. More organizations are trying to be proactive about telling their stories about how we care for our animals, and more and more that message is becoming a beneficial market differentiator. It helps get our product sold in the market and accepted in the market.

"Obviously there has been a change in the entire social consciousness of people on the animal welfare issue. In my mind the consumer is now catching up with the farmers and ranchers in terms of valuing sustainable approaches that include best practices for welfare. The big change for many farmers and ranchers is they are now realizing the value of communicating what they are doing. With the endowment, we believe the combination of research and outreach is a good formula that fits today's needs and environment. It supports continual improvement as well as he awareness needed for true progress."

Global leadership. "When you have stable funding, you're in a position where you can attract the best people that are out there and really build a winner," says Pajor. "The long-term goal is to develop the program into an internationally recognized leader - to benefit the province, the country and beyond."

Ranchers driving welfare innovation. "The gift represents a real commitment by the ranching community and a ranching family here in Alberta to animal care and welfare," says Pajor. "That's huge. The number of emails and calls I've received from colleagues in North America and around the world is amazing. They're incredibly impressed that a ranching family in Canada would support animal welfare in this way."

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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