It is, by any measure, a lot of money.
But her family’s $5-million donation to the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine for animal welfare research is money well spent, says Cochrane-area rancher Wynne Chisholm.
“We love animals and have a soft spot for cows. Cow-calf is underserved in terms of research,” said Chisholm, who operates W.A. Ranches with her father, J.C. (Jack) Anderson, and husband Bob.
The family’s relationship with the faculty goes back to its opening in 2008, when officials from the vet school asked if they would be willing to have students on the ranch. For the past six years, vets in training have helped out on the cow-calf operation, getting hands-on practice calving, branding, vaccinating, and semen testing.
“We’ve been pretty impressed with the faculty and the students over that time period,” said Chisholm.
After hearing the faculty wanted to improve its animal welfare research program, Chisholm called Dean Alaistair Cribb and said she and her father were interested in supporting that work. Their $5-million donation will fund the Anderson/Chisholm Chair in Animal Care and Welfare — a position that Ed Pajor, a professor of animal care and behaviour, will hold for the next five years.
Pajor is well known for his work on codes of practice, animal welfare assessment programs, and as an adviser for companies such as McDonald’s and Safeway as well as the Calgary Stampede.
He came to know Chisholm, who also operates an international management consulting firm, when she was on the Stampede board.
“The chair reflects a number of things (including) the generosity of the Anderson/Chisholm family and their concern about animal welfare,” said Pajor. “They recognize this as an important area and an area that is associated with societal concerns and pressures on ranchers.
“Their donation is also a reflection of the fact that animal care and welfare have been historically underresearched in farm animal production, particularly in beef cattle. This is something the Anderson/Chisholms have recognized for a long time.”
Since the money has been placed in an endowment fund, there will now be ongoing funding for animal welfare studies and researchers won’t be constantly scrambling to obtain grants, he said.
It will also enhance the veterinary school’s reputation as a leader in that field.
“It was clear when they recruited me here five years ago that animal welfare was going to be an important focus for this veterinary school,” said Pajor. “The school is one of a few in North America that has a lot of course time dedicated to animal welfare compared to other places. When creating the curriculum, we had the luxury of creating a curriculum that had time for this new, emerging topic for veterinary medicine.”
The beef industry will be the central research area, with a special focus on the cow-calf sector. Pajor is already working on studies on castration and pain mitigation and management. The school has also been conducting research on difficult pregnancies and deliveries, and their impacts on the calf. Areas such as mother/calf bonding and ways to improve on-farm practices are on the radar for new studies.
And there’s lots of work to be done, said Pajor.
“From a producer perspective, animal care and welfare has always been a big issue,” he said. “Animal welfare science is a very new science. It’s only been around for 25 years, which is not very long for a science.
“Animal welfare creates win-win situations, and that’s really the kind of research I’m interested in pursuing. Improvements in the animal also result in improvements for the ranchers, whether that be the bottom line or ease of getting a job done. When that happens, that will be a win for the consumer as well.”