Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - In 39 years at New Mexico State University, Bobby J. Rankin has helped livestock producers use systematic selection and crossbreeding for animals better suited to the Southwest.
He's advised international students who became ministers of agriculture, university professors and business leaders around the world. And as department head, he's overseen the addition of modern laboratories, a new range livestock research center and more classes and teams for students interested in horses.
Though he officially retired July 31 as head of NMSU's animal and range sciences department, Rankin will keep an eye on things on an interim basis until his replacement is hired.
His NMSU experience includes10 years as a livestock specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, 25 years of teaching and 15 years in administration, a tally that includes overlapping assignments.
Rankin joined NMSU in 1961 after four years in graduate school and three years as an Army officer. He spent 10 years as an Extension livestock specialist responsible for statewide beef cattle and horse programs.
"I really enjoyed it from the first day," he said. "I couldn't imagine that I was fortunate enough that people were paying me to do the kind of work I loved."
Rankin was instrumental in starting the ongoing Tucumcari Bull Test, a centralized test that uses objective measures of weight gain and reproductive potential to evaluate bulls and help producers improve their herds.
He also helped establish New Mexico's 4-H horse program and served on a national 4-H horse project literature committee. "At that time, we had a return of public interest in horses and recreational activities," he said. "The growth was ready to happen." New Mexico's 4-H horse programs remain popular today.
In 1966, Rankin began a part-time academic appointment, teaching genetics and anatomy courses in addition to his statewide Extension program. He accepted a full-time faculty assignment in 1971 to supervise the College Ranch and teach undergraduate classes in beef cattle production and animal breeding, and a graduate course in population genetics.
His research focused on applying principles of crossbreeding and selection for cattle better adapted to semiarid environments in the Southwest. Early results helped to establish the Brangus as one of the breeds more suited for the region.
Rankin has taught in Latin America and Africa and advised students from around the world. Fluent in Spanish, he served as college adviser to a U.S. Agency for International Development project in Paraguay and founding teacher for the graduate program in animal science at the University of Chihuahua. He also worked in Belize, Algeria and Gambia.
"I've always had an interest in international work because it tears down territorial walls and shares knowledge across borders," he said.
One of his career highlights was visiting international graduates at universities, ministriesof agriculture and private enterprises in Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and Kenya.
"It was the culmination of our whole program," he said. "We wanted to see how they were applying their education gained at NMSU, and we were very pleased with what we found." Some of the students returned to NMSU to finish advanced degrees following the visit.
As department head since 1986, Rankin worked to maintain the campus livestock facilities and meats laboratory to offer easily accessible, hands-on experience to students. He also helped the department start an equine teaching program in the mid-1970s that has grown into one of the nation's premier programs.
During his tenure, new faculty and funding allowed the department to develop top-notch research labs in reproductive physiology, molecular biology, endocrinology, ruminant nutrition and rumen microbiology.
Other highlights included a $2 million investment to acquire and develop the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. Rankin also oversaw reorganization and expansion of the Clayton Livestock Research Center following the state Legislature's passage of enhancement funding in 1999. Rankin cited growth of the college's equestrian program, including equestrian and polo teams, as a significant accomplishment for the department. Serving as faculty adviser for the Rodeo Club in the 1960s and the Block and Bridle Club in the 1970s were among his most enjoyable experiences because of the opportunity to get to know students. "As I travel around the state, even now I bump into former students, rodeo team or judging team members who recount trips or amusing incidents that will never be forgotten, it seems."
Rankin and his wife, Margie, who retired from teaching at Las Cruces Public Schools in 1998, plan to travel frequently. Rankin will also continue his interest in international work in Mexico and other Latin America countries.
"I plan to spend more time with horses, more time in the forests and wildernesses, and more time with our children and grandchildren in northern New Mexico," he said. "Las Cruces is home, but New Mexico is an exciting place to explore even after 39 years, and NMSU has been a wonderful place to work."
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