Lyle McNeal '64, animal husbandry

Lyle McNeal

Lyle McNeal has distinguished himself as an animal science professor for more than 45 years, including the last 37 at Utah State University.

But it is Cal Poly Pomona that McNeal calls his alma mater and that lingers fondly in his memories.

“I’m very proud to be an alumnus of Cal Poly Pomona,” he says. “I have a deep love and passion about Cal Poly Pomona.”

It was love that drew McNeal to Cal Poly Pomona in the first place. In the late 1950s, he was working as an assistant manager on a ranch between Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills in the late 1950s. This was before the 101 Freeway was built, when it was only grazing land. Some student leaders and their faculty advisers who were from El Camino College and were guests at the ranch introduced him to a young woman, who was one of their homecoming princesses, named Nancy.

Nancy was studying art at El Camino College and happened to have an Arab gelding. The two soon began dating.

“All our dates were on horseback out at the ranch because no fancy restaurants were out there then,” McNeal recalls. “So I’d take my truck and horse trailer to the place where she boarded her horse in Carson and brought her and her horse out to the ranch. We rode our horses for date day over the Pacific Range down to the coastal areas, depending on daylight and time.” 

Then in the evening and back at the ranch, Nancy would prepare their dinner.

McNeal had thought about moving back to Montana to attend Montana State University in Bozeman because of the family ranch near Ronan where he lived and worked. But his relationship with Nancy changed all that. Nancy was transferring from El Camino to Pomona College. She told him about a nearby university that might fit his needs rather than going back to Montana.

And that is how McNeal wound up at Cal Poly Pomona.

With his background with horses, he was able to pay his own way through school without loans or grants by working at the original Kellogg stables. He also performed at the Sunday horse shows, managed and lived at the Swine Unit, worked as a shepherd for the Sheep Unit, and showed cattle and sheep at the L.A. County Fair and other major livestock shows.

McNeal became president of the Animal Science Club and started the annual Cal Poly Rodeo. He was an award-winning member of the university’s Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Team. He graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in 1964 with his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry.

After graduation, McNeal earned his master’s degree in animal breeding and range management from the University of Nevada at Reno and then worked as an agent for the university’s cooperative extension service.

He then taught for 10 years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, also spending time as a staff scientist at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. But the coastal weather didn’t agree with McNeal, so he earned his doctorate in physiology of reproduction and range science at Utah State University and started teaching in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences in 1979.

Among his accomplishments was assisting with the development of a new breed of sheep while at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, called the Polypay, which meant “many pay checks,” because it could lamb twice per year.  He also co-founded the American Polypay Sheep Association and founded the Navajo Sheep Project, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve a rare “heritage” breed, the Navajo Churro, and the culture and people around it. The Navajos adopted McNeal in recognition of his efforts.

For his numerous accomplishments, McNeal was named the College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Alumnus in 1989. In 2007, he was one of 40 professors nationwide who was named a Carnegie Professor of the Year for their influence in teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. He is the only professor in the agricultural sciences to receive this recognition.

And what about Nancy? Well, McNeal married her before he graduated from Cal Poly Pomona. Together, they have lived in many places in the West, including a Nevada ranch where they raised Arabian horses and purebred Suffolk sheep. They have nine children and 15 grandchildren.

Because of his experience as an undergraduate and his courtship of Nancy, Cal Poly Pomona will always have a special place in McNeal’s heart and soul.

“Going to Cal Poly Pomona was one of the best things I ever did,” he says, “along with marrying Nancy.”