Highlights from 2015 Aggie Days

Thousands of city-slickers got a chance to learn more about agriculture, farming and rural life at Calgary Stampede’s annual Aggie Days. This beloved event embodies the Stampede’s initiatives to connect the urban and rural– Aggie Days is a unique opportunity for urban communities to learn about about how and where their food is made, as well as what producers actually do on the farm.

Guests were invited to submit questions and write about their thoughts on agriculture in Alberta

Guests were invited to submit questions and write about their thoughts on agriculture in Alberta

Aggie Days, which turned 30 this year, hosted a wide range of farmers and producer groups at the BMO Centre– kids and their families had the chance to circulate through countless interactive booths, live demonstrations, hands-on agriculture simulators and attend competitions! There was a ton to see and do–over 50 exhibits that span over 100,000 sq ft to be exact. Highlights include:

Pictured: A guest exploring the wheels of a John Deere tractor.

Pictured: A guest exploring the wheels of a John Deere tractor.

Cervus tractor and baler display– Ever wanted to learn about John Deere tractors? Our excited guests spent the afternoon around simulators and displays at Aggie Days.

Are you a horse? reading by president Bill Gray

“Are you a horse?” asked president Bill Gray

Calgary Stampede president, Bill Gray, performing a charming reading of Are you a horse? by Andy Rash.

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2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days

Each year, the Queens’ Alumni committee and Agriculture Education committee team up to host Giddy Up Aggie Days, a free event for special needs children and their families.

2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days

The 2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days breakfast kicked off bright and early at 7:30 a.m. in the Stampede Corral — past Calgary Stampede queens and volunteers from Maxim Power Corp. worked hard to feed more than 700 registered families and their caregivers.

2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days volunteers from Maxium Power Corp.

2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days volunteers from Maxium Power Corp. busy serving up pancakes to our guests.

We saw a lot of happy faces munching on pancakes as notable guests, such as the Stampede Queen and Princesses, past Indian Princesses and several rodeo queens, mixed and mingled through the crowds.

2015 Giddy Up Aggie Days

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Aggie Days and Dairy Cattle accommodate special needs children

The 30th anniversary of Aggie Days has me reflecting on how much the Agriculture Education committee has accomplished throughout the years. I’d like to share a few of my top memories with you today.

First, let me introduce myself. I have been involved with Aggie Days almost from the very beginning. Although not actually on the Agriculture Education (Aggie Days) committee at the time, I was involved with the Dairy Committee and Aggie Days shared the barn with the Dairy Show. So in 1986, during the first Aggie Days, I helped bring in Jersey calves for the school program. I joined the Aggie Days committee shortly after that. I have been doing the cow milking demonstrations for many years with the help of my whole family.

One of my favorite memories of Aggie Days was when we invited Paul Brandt to come and sing for the special needs children as their lunch time entertainment. My daughter Danielle, who was 10 or 11 at the time, wrote him a letter asking him to come to Aggie Days as he was going to be in Calgary for a CBC televised concert in the Saddledome. She mentioned how much her younger brother Jeff loved dancing to his songs and that Jeff was developmentally handicapped and would be at Aggie Days. Paul’s manager contacted us and said that Paul would try to come and sing. Paul did come and sing for the kids in the Victoria Pavilion and the kids danced and clapped along. Paul also took some extra time to meet Jeff and Danielle and gave us tickets to his concert. It was truly a memorable experience!

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Children at Giddy-Up Aggie Days getting to know the dairy cattle inside the pen.

One of the best accomplishments with Aggie Days was getting special needs schools their own time at Aggie Days. My son Jeff attended a school program for special needs children and we invited them to come to Aggie Days. The handibus dropped the kids off at the barns about 45 minutes before the regular school buses arrived. Our exhibitors welcomed the wheelchairs into the pens with the animals, which let the kids come up close to touch, see and smell. Everyone really enjoyed the extra special time they spent showing these kids their exhibits and animals without a crowd. It was decided the following year to have Aggie Days Wednesday morning dedicated to the special needs schools and children. Now the Queens’ Alumni Giddy-Up Aggie Days for special needs children and their families is held on the Saturday of Aggie Days.

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My daughter, Danielle, introducing one of our Jersey cows to the kids during Giddy-Up Aggie Days.

Out of the cows that we brought to Aggie Days, one particularly memorable one was Bluebell the Jersey cow, who attended for at least 10 years. Bluebell was brown, with a few black highlights, but her most distinctive feature was a white heart on her face. She absolutely loved people she would have. Most of the time Bluebell’s pen would be open so the kids could go in and pat her. Quite often you would see her laying down, happily chewing her cud and surrounded by kids. Some would have their ear to her stomach listening for her baby, some would be laying on her and some would be hugging her.

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My daughter, Danielle, opening the pen so children in wheelchairs can touch, smell and feel the dairy cattle up close.

We would also take kids in wheel chairs in to see Bluebell and she was very still and patient so the kids were able to touch her.  She loved every minute of it. Every year in the barns, we would unload her and she would walk right into her pen. In the mornings she would be watching the entrance to the barns from the Victoria Pavilion, because that is where the kids came in. At home she would come to the gate of the corral when she saw the trailer that she rode in, and walk in without hesitation. Bluebell also came to Country Critters at Stampede time as part of Ag-tivity in the City for many years. She was such a special cow that kids would come back to visit her year after year. Bluebell’s legacy lives on as Bluebell, the hand milking cow, was named after her, (even though the plastic Bluebell is a Holstein).

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Bluebell, the plastic handmilking cow used for interactive learning displays. (Named after Bluebell the loveable Jersey cow.)

People of all ages should come to Aggie Days every year because the animals change from year to year, there are always a few new displays, and everyone can learn something each and every year. It is extremely important that everyone understands where their food comes from. Over the years, I have had people with young children come to Aggie Days and tell me that they watched me milk the cows when they were in school and now they are bringing their children to see it. It makes me feel old but proud that I have had such a part in teaching people about agriculture and specifically dairy cattle.

Aggie Days is open to the public on April 11-12 and takes place in the BMO Centre, Stampede Park.

Horsemanship at the heart of Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race

The Calgary Stampede is excited to be hosting an Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race on Sunday, April 12.  The race, which is a multi-faceted equestrian sporting event that showcases both horse and rider as they maneuver through a series of obstacles, shows amazing horsemanship and incredible speed. The event coincides with Aggie Days, an exhibit-style event geared to help youth learn about agriculture.

David Cowley, an extreme cowboy competitor, is eagerly waiting for this spring’s competition. “[The race] is a lot of fun,” he says, “and having a competition that focuses on the trust and relationship between horse and rider is great.” His first extreme cowboy race was in 2010 during Stampede time at the Cowboy Up Challenge and he has been a competitor in the Aggie Days Extreme Cowboy Race since last year.


Cowley adding a little extra flair to the competition by standing on his horse to rope the dummy at last year’s Cowboy Up Challenge during Stampede time

Cowley is well-known in Calgary for bringing his horse to the top of the Calgary Tower during Stampede time. “There’s nothing better than seeing peoples’ faces when I walk out of the elevator at the top with my horse,” he says with a laugh. Cowley has trained and taken six different horses up the tower over the past 15 years. This year, he will be bringing Tucker, a palomino quarter horse. Cowley appreciates the opportunity to promote the Stampede and western hospitality. “People don’t often understand how strong the bond can be between horse and rider,” Cowley says.


Cowley crouching on the glass floor at the top of the Calgary Tower with his horse Tucker

Training a horse to feel confident and comfortable enough to ride the elevator all the way up the Calgary Tower, then walk around and take photos with guests, is a big task and requires a strong bond between horse and rider. Cowley loves strengthening this bond and is thrilled to participate in a competition that focuses on this trust.

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Aggie Days then and now

Aggie Days, taking place from April 8 – 12 at Stampede Park, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. This educational program, which features displays, exhibits, animals and more, has grown significantly over the years.

In 1986, the first Aggie Days program was created for school children to experience agriculture up-close and learn where their food comes from. Aggie Days took place in a small part of the Agriculture Barns and featured a few exhibits and animals, mainly dairy cattle. The school classes were accompanied by a tour guide that took them through the exhibits, through the show cattle at the dairy classic, and made sure the students arrives at their scheduled demos on time.

In the years following, the Aggie Days team added to the animal experience by providing sheep shearing, cow milking demonstrations and wagon rides pulled by heavy horse teams. The experience of what life is like on a farm was beginning to round out. All of the demonstrations showcased the importance of agriculture and the various types of agricultural roles that shape our world.

Aggie Days’ success thrived; the classes returned, year after year, and the committee was eager to exceed their expectations. The interest youth had in agriculture was a driving force to heighten their Aggie Days experiences; even more exhibits were added. Cattle presentations, rope making demonstrations, butter making, wheat grinding and bread making were new highlights of Aggie Days. At this time, Aggie Days grew to occupy half of the Agriculture Barns and expanded into the Victoria Pavilion, which was used for the cow milking and sheep shearing demonstrations, and the noon hour entertainment.

Aggie Days 1993 - Holstein kid and calves (2)

Aggie Days dairy exhibit in the Agriculture Barns 1993

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2015 Dairy Classic Championship Show

Last weekend, crowds gathered to the Calgary Stampede Agriculture Barns for the 2015 Dairy Classic Champion Show.

2015 Dairy Classic Show: Summer Yearlings.

2015 Dairy Classic Show: Summer Yearlings.

On Saturday, March 21, I attended the Dairy Classic to learn about what it takes to raise award-winning milk cows. Those in attendance saw dairy farmers reaping the rewards of decades of labour and generations worth of effort. The cows featured at the Dairy Classic have been selectively bred for milk production and type– the udders shown in the show are noticeably larger and the bodies are more streamlined than beef cattle you’re likely to see on your drives outside Calgary.

2015 Dairy Classic Show: Summer Yearlings.

2015 Dairy Classic Show: Summer Yearlings.

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Lucky 7 at Agrium Centre this fall

This coming weekend marks the seventh major new event drawn to the heart of Calgary by the newly-opened Agrium Western Event Centre during the fall season alone. The World Professional Bull-riding’s championship finals event wraps up the fall season with a huge bang this Friday and Saturday evening.


Top bull riders and bucking bulls will converge on the Agrium Centre November 21 and 22, with riders coming from Paraguay, Mexico, Australia, USA and across Canada, vying for the title of 2014 WPB champion. It’s sure to be a fun ride. Check out details and links to tickets HERE.

Since mid-September, the Stampede’s new customized livestock-centric facility has seen a steady round of an estimated 4,000 horses, bulls, cattle and even show-jumpers flow through Stampede Park for a series of client events. This fall’s new events at the Agrium Centre included an international horsemanship conference, a pro rodeo finals competition, team roping championship, team penning finals, showjumping and the bullriding championships.


Two of the events are all-new – the Jonathan Field and Friends international Horsemanship Conference and the Royal West showjumping competition - made possible by this unique building. The other five have been held in other cities, but relocated to Calgary for the Agrium Centre. These have all drawn thousands of visitors to Calgary. For example, the 10-day elite Royal West showjumping event continued over two weekends (image from Royal West Facebook, above) and drew international competitors, plus thousands more viewers online to see the building in action.


The Calgary Stampede’s own annual Cutting Horse Futurity competition (pictured above) was a five-day event earlier in October, shifting from its traditional home in the Stampede’s Corral to the new Agrium Centre. The new venue and some added commemorative prizing helped attract a large spike in entry numbers of horses and riders from across Western Canada and through the western United States.

All riders, horsemen, cowboys and livestock owners have been thoroughly impressed by the facility’s tailored features designed for the comfort, safety and top performance of their animals. Riders from across Canada and the USA have commented it’s among the top facilities they have visited of its kind in North America. Word is spreading, enticing ever-more horse and livestock events to consider Calgary for their coming events.

Whether groups are interested in hosting corporate rodeos to accompany big conferences, riding workshops, horse competitions or even special performances showcasing animals, the Agrium Centre is ready to ride for 2015. For more information on bookings, contact Stampede Sales and Events.

Horse magic with Jonathan Field and Friends

Jonathan Field – Tapping into an ancient approach to the human-horse relationship, Jonathan works to spread his message of observance, patience and understanding…

So begins this beautiful excerpt from his half hour documentary “Harmony with Horses”.

This weekend, you can experience Jonathan’s extraordinary horsemanship at the Jonathan Field and Friends International Horsemanship Conference in the Agrium Western Event Centre.

Jonathan Fields_1Today, Jonathan gave a special presentation to 28 Grade 5 Stampede School students. “I want to show the kids that if we can learn to communicate with horses, we can do incredible things,” he said.

Jonathan and the children went through the differences between humans and horses: the position of our eyes and ears. Humans communicate verbally, horses through body language. The fact that horses are a prey species and therefore care deeply about being safe. All of these things, he explained, are important to fully understanding a horse.

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Jonathan Fields_

He explained horse herd mentality and how every herd has a natural hierarchy. “This will be a herd of six–five horses and me.” Jonathan, in his demonstration, would get the herd to work together, with himself as the leader. So that free wheeling horses, Jonathan Fields_3would become one. Jonathan Fields_4Watching Jonathan with the horses is nothing short of enchanting and the conference this weekend is the first of its kind. You can still get tickets here.

4H Rodeo teaches the ropes to youngsters

Almost 70 young aspiring cowboys and cowgirls learned the ropes of their industry at the 17th annual Calgary Stampede Invitational 4H Rodeo this past weekend.

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The Stampede hosted the 4H students, aged nine to 20 years old, at the Agrium Western Event Centre on August 23 and 24, making this the first rodeo to be held in the new tailored livestock facility. The Stampede hosts the 4H Rodeo annually to give the youngsters a solid grounding in their sport, in rodeo production, livestock handling and animal care. Alongside the competition, the young rodeo competitors take part in educational sessions aimed at stepping up their game in all these topics and more.

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While rodeo is familiar, many of the events are not generally well-known in non-rodeo circles. Time events like thread-the-needle, pole-bending and goat-tying are the training grounds for younger athletes and their horses before graduating to tie-down roping and barrel racing.

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Learn more in this video interview from Global TV Morning News.


Barn Brings Family Together

The barn brings the McLeod family of Cochrane, Alberta together. “It’s the place where we come together and work together,” says Rod McLeod.

And that work has paid off. McLeod’s daughter Megan walked away a Grand Champion with her Charolais steer Cruise at the UFA Steer Classic during the recent Calgary Stampede. And five years ago, her brother Colby was also a winner with his Charolais steer.


It was a dream for Megan, 18, to be at the Calgary Stampede competing with her 1,320-pound steer Cruise. Megan bought Cruise from a Bowden, Alberta Charolais breeder and says she likes to support local breeders. The country duo Florida-Georgia Line’s hit song, Cruise, was the inspiration behind her steer’s name.


Megan participated in the Summer Synergy youth livestock program leading up to Stampede. Summer Synergy provides a collaborative venue to showcase youth in agriculture by combining traditional elements with innovative approaches for personal achievement and development. In the program, participants are judged on various elements including showmanship, conformation, marketing, show team judging and multi species judging. Each participant is scored and the top achievers receive scholarships.

“Synergy is an amazing competition,” says Megan. “You meet amazing people and learn valuable leadership skills.” And being at the Stampede exposes rural youth to an urban population and teaches them how to talk about livestock with the urban public, she adds. All these skills will benefit you later down the road, she says.

Megan is a member of the Jumping Pound 4-H Club, president of the Alberta Charolais Youth Association and a director on the Canadian Charolais Youth Association. She will be headed east in the fall to study at the University of Saskatchewan.

To learn more about Summer Synergy visit http://summersynergy.ca.

World Champion Six Horse Hitch

The World Champion Six Horse Hitch features magnificent heavy horses performing to the music of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s something truly special. And while I can appreciate the animals, the music and the performance, there’s so much I don’t know about the event. I asked Heavy Horse committee Courtney Stephenson to tell me more.

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What are the judges looking for in the arena at the various parts of the performance?

The judges are looking for a hitch that works together in unison.  He also is looking for horses that are athletic and moving well, which means lifting their knees up high and straight  and hocks that are moving straight like a pair of scissors. The horses should be clean and well presented with clean harness and decorated with a rolled mane (4 strand braid) with mane flowers arranged straight thru the mane and tails tied in a clean bun.  The teamster should be engaged with the horses and in control of his hitch.

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What exactly are the various things they need to do?

The horses move at a trot and are marked down if they break, which is just a term for loping.  They are asked to walk, drive across the diagonal of the ring,  line up and back up their hitch.  All needs to be done with ease and together as one unit.

What are the roles of the two people in the carriage? 

The teamster is the one who is in control of the hitch and makes the commands to the horses. You can see a good hitch horse has horses who are constantly moving their ears back and forth so they can listen to the teamster. The person who accompanies the teamster is there for safety in case something gets out of hand, the horses even though gentle in nature are large animals and we need to keep their safety in mind. They are also there to stand at the horses head when the hitch is stopped.

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How much horse power do the heavy horses each have?

A 1 tonne draft horse can produce 3.5 live horse power.

What kinds of horses exactly are in the show?

Belgians, Percheron’s, Clydesdales and Shires.

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What is the temperament of these horses? Any other special insider knowledge/facts about the horses?

Heavy horses are very gentle and sensible in nature.  The Heavy Horses have been shown on the Stampede grounds for 128 year when it was nothing more than a small agricultural society. Two of the Big Four, Patrick Burns and George Lane were heavy horse breeders.

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Any other interesting facts?

The heavy horses wear scotch bottom horse shoes, which is style of shoe. They weigh 3.5 lbs each.

Aussie Liberty Horsemanship Expert Dan James awes with incredible talent

Hailing from down under, Australian Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship is a lifelong horseman with a passion for understanding and connecting with horses, showcasing their skill and dropping jaws with the possibilities of a horse’s talent.

James is a master of ‘liberty training’, connecting with horses while using the least amount of ‘equipment’ as possible. While working his horses without halters, bridles and even saddles, James showcases the strength of his bond with horses and their incredible capacity and intelligence in this style of horsemanship.

Double Dan James

James has many notable accomplishments in his equine career, having worked and competed all over the world. In 2008 he won “Way of the Horse” at Equitana Asia Pacific, and most recently won the prestigious “Road to the Horse” world championship of colt starting as a member of Team Australia in 2012.

Dan James performs daily in the Agrium Western Event Centre with professional trick rider and liberty horsewoman Niki Flundra.

Performance times:

  • Friday, July 11- 11:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. performance
  • Saturday, July 12 – 6:45 p.m. performance
  • Sunday, July 13- 5:00 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. performance

Come on down or watch live at http://ag.calgarystampede.com/agrium-centre-ustream

For more about Dan:



Check out Dan’s experience with the winners of a Calgary Stampede Twitter contest.


2014 BMO Farm Family Awards

Every year, the Calgary Stampede and BMO Bank of Montreal recognize outstanding farm families in southern Alberta. The awards program was created to promote a renewed urban-rural relationship and to recognize outstanding southern Alberta farm families who best symbolize the value of the family farmer to our society. The program focuses on recognizing the contribution to the enhancement of quality of life as a family unit.


Alberta Agriculture Service Board representatives from each municipal district in southern Alberta nominate one family. Then, the families are brought to the Calgary Stampede for the BMO Farm Family Awards in July, which include a reception, a greeting from Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture, brunch, an awards presentation and a family photograph session. The winning families are then treated to an afternoon Stampede Rodeo performance. This year, the 2014 BMO Farm Family Awards were held on Monday, July 7 at the Palomino Room in the BMO Centre.


The Palomino Room had an air of excitement to it as families gathered to celebrate their achievements. Children laughed at the clown’s antics while adults sipped on champagne and orange juice and enjoyed light snacks. MC Darrel Janz, president and chairman of the board of the Calgary Stampede Bob Thompson and the Honourable Verlyn Olson Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development addressed the families. The speakers thanked the families for their hard work and dedication to agriculture while they recalled their own agriculture connections and experience, showing how this industry truly touches all reaches of southern Alberta.


Family bios were read aloud and displayed on posters as well as in the event program; though there were many variances of region, heritage and product farmed, there was one similarity – the many generations involved in caring for and continuing the farm’s growth. The question of the importance of agriculture was raised with one simple question: “Do you like to eat?” With a unanimous chuckle from the crowd, the answer was clear.


Congratulations to all the families who were nominated for the award this year:

Nelson Family Farm – Rod Nelson & Family - Starland County

Silver Top Dairy – William & Rita VanRootselaar & Family - MD of Willow Creek No. 26

Sereda Farms Ltd. – Ron Sereda & Family - Couny of Newell

Chinook Country Farms – Larry Gano & Family - Mountainview County

Saywer Farms – Matthew Sawyer – Kneehill County

John & Rod Blake & Family – MD of Ranchland

Caseley Farms – Jack Caseley & Family - Special Areas No. 4

Howard Davis & Family – MD of Pincher Creek No. 9

Diamond V Ranch – Richard Wambeke & Family – MD of Foothills No. 31

GPL Christensen Farms – Grant Christensen & Family – Special Areas No. 2

Olsen Prairie Farms Ltd. – Erling Olsen & Family – County of Warner No. 5

BH Farms – Arnie Bergen-Henengouwen & Family – County of Lethbridge

Morison Family Farms – Rod Morison & Family – Rocky View County

Wickstrom Farms – Ron Wickstrom & Family – Vulcan County

Lone Star Cattle Co. – Ron Ostrom & Family – Wheatland County

Thistle Ridge Ranch – Ben Tams & Family – MD of Taber

Darcy Barfuss & Family – Cardston County

Hatview Dairy Farm – Herb Weiss & Family - Cypress County

Tony Crooymans and Sons – Andrew Crooymans & Family – County of Forty Mile

David Dick & Family – Special Areas No. 3