BUSINESS APPROACH Business woman Wynne Chisholm used evaluation, benchmarking and expert advice to overhaul her cow-calf operation
Wynne Chisholm calls it “Consulting 101 meets Ranching 101.”
The Alberta entrepreneur grew up on a cow-calf operation, worked on numerous global consulting projects, and returned to ranching when her father decided to get back into the cattle business.
That meant taking classes in subjects such as manure management, environmental farm plans, and cow-calf operations. But it also meant applying her business skills to the new enterprise, Chisholm told attendees at the recent Women in Agriculture dinner hosted by Ceres.
“As a professional consultant, I was used to scoping out and planning a project, doing some kind of diagnosis, putting together options and evaluating alternatives, making recommendations, creating solutions, and following action plans and evaluation,” said the president and CEO of W.A. Ranches Ltd. and a 2011 winner of the Rosemary Davis Award, which honours women who are leaders in Canadian agriculture.
Her first move was to benchmark all aspects of the ranch, using the environmental farm planning process as an assessment tool. Chisholm and her husband Bob automated as many processes as possible and invested in herd-record software and a wand for scanning RFID tags.
“Bob’s background is as a certified general accountant so we have the best set of books in the business,” said Chisholm, who is also president of Wynne Chisholm and Associates, which specializes in building organizational capability.
“He does trend analysis for us and can tell us where our expenses have changed in the past number of years.”
The couple sought out expert advice, did a herd evaluation, and created strategic and operational goals and plans – which including increasing the herd size; hiring staff; and improving health protocol, facilities and fencing.
“We also needed to build our brand,” said Chisholm. “People didn’t know us because we’d been out of the business for so long. The people Dad knew were no longer in their business or their kids were ranching.”
An important part of running a ranch like a business is monitoring what is actually happening, she said.
“We benchmarked other producers and got carcass data back on a bunch of our animals,” Chisholm said.
They also sought feedback from buyers and assessed their performance against their goals.
“Continuous improvement and continuous learning are big parts of our operation,” she said.
Seven years later, the Chisholms have increased their herd (now 800 cows) and land base, and also created a web-based management system.
“We’re really focused on feed self-sufficiency, so we are raising what we need for our operation,” said Chisholm, adding they still have to buy some hay and straw.
The ranch sponsors 4-H and awards for students at Olds College, is involved with the University of Calgary veterinary school, and welcomes students who want to learn about cow-calf operations and get hands-on experience.
“We do a lot of things to help youth stay interested and involved in agriculture,” she said.
Chisholm urged the women in the audience to look for leadership opportunities in agriculture.
“All of you can have a voice in agriculture,” she said. “The opportunities are there.”
The importance of farmers, food and women in agriculture was also the theme of the event’s other speaker, beef market analyst and writer Brenda Schoepp from Rimbey.
Ceres is a women’s fraternity that promotes the appreciation of agriculture and the values of a rural lifestyle, including leadership, fellowship and scholastic achievement. The University of Alberta chapter was founded in 1986, and is one of several chapters in the U.S. and Canada.