About Ron Kilgour

Dr Ron Kilgour (1932-1988)

Ron Kilgour’s life had many facets. He was a pioneer in the study of farm animal behaviour in order to promote animal welfare and improve their productivity. But he also had an encompassing and compassionate approach to life that spanned many organisations and causes.

He was born into a farming family at Table Flat near Apiti in the Manawatu. He attended Fielding Agricultural High School and then studied at Canterbury University, graduating with a BA in psychology. His MA on leadership in a herd of dairy cows was a pointer to his future career.

After teaching for some years and spending time on aid projects in Indonesia, he commenced his career in applied behavioural science at Ruakura in 1967. The animal behaviour unit he established developed strong links to the University of Waikato Psychology Department. He was a gifted motivator and supervised students through many basic and applied research projects. In 1972 he was awarded a PhD from Waikato University based on his thesis An examination of the temperamental and ability characteristics of large animals under open-field and stress conditions.

His research included pigs, deer, sheep, goats, horses, possums and hens. Among many other topics, he advised and worked with researchers on the effects of electric fences, responses of cows to pulsation and vacuum, food preferences, sensory perceptions, and physiological and behavioural responses to transportation. Ron published 96 scientific papers, 38 extension papers, 60 general papers, and 18 book chapters. A book based on his experience and that of Clive Dalton, Livestock Behaviour, became the recognised text for students worldwide. He was a speaker and guest lecturer at scientific conferences and universities throughout the world. In 1985 he was awarded Munich University’s Felix Wankel award for research in animal production.

Ron was a public advocate for the study of applied animal behaviour and improved animal welfare at a time when these topics were regarded with suspicion by many in the farming and scientific communities. He gave willingly of his time to advise farmers, pet owners, exporters, managers of rural industries and many others on ways to relieve suffering and improve animal welfare. He was influential in changing the mind-set of many New Zealanders towards the importance of first recognising, and then accommodating, inherent animal behaviours in intensive production systems.

Ron cared for the less fortunate throughout his life. He gave and did not count the cost. He was actively involved with the Presbyterian Church, with the charity CORSO, with anti-nuclear and anti- apartheid groups. He and his wife Anne were both actively involved in counselling staff at Ruakura and in the wider community on ways to overcome the problems they encountered.

Ron still had much to do when his life was cut short by an accident in 1988. But we are grateful for what he did, and the energy and humanity he generated.