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Inside CWC’s cutting-edge complex

Leading Agricultural and Equine Education and Innovation

After the grand opening of its 85,000 square foot Rustler Ag & Equine Complex in August 2023, Central Wyoming College’s (CWC) agriculture program is taking off at a gallop.

Containing several purpose-built classrooms, two equine arenas, and a fully functional meat processing facility, the Rustler complex has positioned CWC as a cutting-edge provider of ag and equine science education in Wyoming. “The building has been a gleam in the eye of our college for over a dozen years,” said CWC Foundation Executive Director Beth Monteiro. “Our school has entered a new era.”

Located on 22 acres adjacent to CWC’s baseball field on Morfeld Drive, the massive barn-style Rustler complex is a campus-within-a-campus. From exams to lab classes to hands-on sessions with live animals, the building is a bonafide home base for ag students.

CWC Foundation executive director Beth Monteiro explained how the new USDA certified meat processing facility. Students are taught how to take in and process livestock in this brand new facility that operates every week.

CWC offers a variety of certificate and degree tracks in agriculture, including a four year “Agricultural Leadership” bachelor of science program introduced in fall 2023. Key faculty members based out of the Rustler complex include five instructors, a rodeo coach, a community food specialist, and a meat plant manager. One hundred and fourteen students are enrolled in CWC’s ag and equine courses for the spring 2024 semester, a number that Monteiro expects will climb now that the complex is up and running.

CWC student Rob Philp worked on his calf roping Monday morning in the Rustler Ag and Equine Complex. Students, like Philp, are learning ranch-running skills on their own horse they’re encouraged to bring to CWC.

The focal point of the building is a wide-open equine arena where students bring their own personal horses and develop their skills in dressage, steer roping, and horsemanship. A massive garage door and trailer bay allows students to unload their animals directly onto the arena floor, where bleacher seats on the perimeter can host up to 300 spectators.

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Just steps from the main arena, the Rustler complex’s classrooms are equipped with state-of-the art teaching tools and immaculate furnishings. A full-size horse skeleton marks the entrance to a storage arena filled with artificial insemination equipment for beef cattle.

Instructor Keith Duran has plans in the works for the program to eventually manage its own cattle herd. The idea is to create a closed system in which cows raised on campus can be slaughtered in-house and served in CWC’s cafeteria. “Our meat processing facility gives us a unique edge over most other ag programs out there,” said Monteiro. “We went the extra mile to meet regulations that allow us to serve and sell the meat that we produce.”

A diagram of pork meat cuts sat behind scales in the agricultural room in the new CWC Ag and Equine Complex.

Tucked away on the building’s west end, the meat processing area is tidy and compact – geared toward teaching rather than maximizing production. Designed with consideration to industry standards based on the work of renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, the facility can process cattle, hogs, and lamb. From slaughter to storage, students participate in every step of the operation – all overseen by a licensed meat plant manager, per the USDA’s requirements.

A board from the Ag and Equine Complex’s opening branded with local ranch brands from around Fremont County sat on the bleachers in the complex.

In the future, the meat processing floor aims to churn out a variety of marketable commodities. Internal organs, or offal, can be used in pet food products, and hides can be tanned and turned into leather. “One weakness of the greater food system is that there is a focus on high efficiency production of single products rather than holistic use of a resource,” remarked Monteiro. “We’d like our program to do the latter.”

In addition to the Rustler building, CWC’s ag program also includes a regenerative small scale farming center at the Alpine Science Institute in Lander. Last summer, the program hosted a farm-to-table fundraiser dinner lavishly prepared with meat and vegetables grown and processed by students. 

Now that the Rustler complex is complete, CWC’s ag program expects to attract increased interest from out of state. For now, the majority of enrollment comes from within Wyoming. “Formally, many students had to travel far and wide to access a high-quality ag education,” said Monteiro. “We hope our program enables folks to continue working on their family farms and ranches while they pursue their education.”

On Tuesday March 19, CWC will host a celebration of National Ag Day at the Rustler Ag & Equine Complex. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., attendees will have the opportunity to network with CWC faculty members and local business owners and trade knowledge of the agricultural industry.

“This building [Rustler] is fostering an interesting cross pollination of equine and ag and rodeo,” said Monteiro. “The students get together and they feed each other.”