|October 30, 1998||Volume 6, Number 5|
Former rodeo rider ropes a PhD and a job he loves
When it comes to the road of life, Bart Lardner has definitely taken the scenic route.
"Yeah, I've done a few things so far," the 40-year-old, Saskatoon-based agriculture researcher says.
"I've been a cattle producer, I've been a crop grower, I've been involved in agriculture since day one. I guess I've received about as much education in the industry as one can."
Lardner completed his PhD in agriculture at the U of S last spring. He recently joined Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food as a research technology transfer coordinator for the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC), a corporation set up to promote the province's beef industry.
The Centre is geared toward the needs of cow-calf and feedlot operators in the province.
Lardner sees himself "an intermediary" between the research and development sector and animal producers. It's a role he's clearly comfortable in playing.
"I like to relate to producers as much as I like to involve myself with scientists. With this position, I'm able to do both."
"I'm very much involved with the producers - the people who are actually out there growing crops and raising animals. But at the same time, I'm working with the latest research in the whole field, which I find extremely interesting. Every day there's something different."
Lardner was born in Salmon Arm, where his parents ran a dairy farm. The family later moved to Nelson, and then to Dawson Creek, when he was 14.
"We had a mixed farm up there - beef and grain. I farmed with my father until I was about 17. Then I got itchy feet and decided to make it on my own."
After completing his Grade 11, he travelled throughout the west, working at various jobs in the animal health sector.
"I worked in a lot of vet clinics and feedlots, doing all types of things, such as pen-checking and feeding the animals, silaging, and so on." He also worked in the embryo transfer field, and later earned his keep as a ranch hand.
It was while working on ranches in Alberta and BC that he got his first taste of he danger and excitement of rodeo life.
"I got involved in rodeo against my parents wishes, of course. It was an exciting lifestyle. I travelled all over western Canada doing the amateur circuit, riding bulls and bareback horses. I was young and I figured I was invincible. I never had a thought about getting injured."
But then it happened, in 1980, at a rodeo in Cochrane, Alberta. Lardner was bucked off a bull and fell underneath the flailing animal.
"I got stomped pretty bad," he recalls. "Ruptured my spleen and had to go in for an emergency splenectomy. I darn near didn't make it. It made me realize my mortality."
After several months' rehabilitation, he briefly rejoined the rodeo circuit. But his close brush with death soon made him realize that he needed to take his life in a different direction.
"I was tired of packing my Grade 11 and not getting anywhere. So I went back to school in 1981 and got my grade 12. From there I went to Fairview, Alberta, and became a registered veterinary assistant."
He graduated from Fairview College in 1984 and later that year enrolled at the U of S to pursue a SCc degree in agriculture. But the experience quickly soured him.
"I took one year and decided that university wasn't my cup of tea. It was extremely discouraging. I found that my marks dropped considerably from the college environment I was used to."
He returned to the feedlots and the embryo transfer industry, where he worked as an animal health technologist. But after three years he decided to give university another shot.
This time things went much better.
He completed his BSA at the U of S in 1991 and even won a graduate scholarship. He finished his MSc. in agriculture in 1993, then taught animal sciences for one year at Lethbridge Community College before returning to the U of S to begin work on a PhD.
His thesis focused on the rejuvenation of tame forage pastures, a topic of considerable interest not only to farmers but also to wildlife conservation groups, especially Ducks Unlimited Canada, which provided him with part of his funding. The study took more than three years.
As he settles into his new job at the WBDC, Lardner says he has few regrets about the tortuous path he's taken in life.
"It's been an education," he says, with a smile.
- Keith Solomon
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