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Al’s Cultural Landscape

Several weeks ago, news of Al Wiederspahn’s death caused a whiplash, which cracked quickly around the Cowboy State. His loss is felt keenly by many of us beyond his family and friends because of the many contributions he made to his community.  While a very private man, Al was generous with his time and considerable intellect, and those of us fortunate to benefit from his wisdom also gained precious insights into his beliefs, opinions and hopes for the future.  

A conversation with Al was always a journey – a meandering trip that touched on all manner of related subjects before ending up at the required destination.  He was a model for civility – always polite, always proper and always impeccably dressed.  While one of the most patient people imaginable, he was not always patient.  Al could not stand hypocrisy, stupidity or dishonesty, and he was not shy about expressing his opinions of the unworthy. Very politely.  Properly.  And while handsomely attired.  

Al served on the Board of Directors of the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust since 2009 and was Chairman for several of those years.  He was passionate about our work and the opportunity we have to conserve not just land, but Wyoming’s “cultural landscape.”  He gave a great deal of time and energy to our Land Trust and was a greatly valued mentor, leader, conscience, philanthropist, counsel  and, perhaps most importantly, expansive thinker.  

What follows is something Al wrote for the Land Trust’s newsletter in 2010.  Not only does it describe our work at its very best, it also reminds us of what we will miss most about Al.

“The Ranching Culture”

By Alvin Wiederspahn

It is a privilege for me to serve on the Board of the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust (WSGALT).  While much of WSGALT’s work focuses on the conservation of ranch lands, it is perhaps less recognized that by preserving agricultural uses on those lands, WSGALT also furthers the protection of a culture – the culture of ranching.

Culture has been described as the total way of life that characterizes a group of people.  By any measure or definition, ranching embodies a singular culture.  The ranch culture is comprised of a distinctive set of cultural components, which include animal husbandry, architecture, courtship, cuisine, dance, dress, etiquette, free enterprise, gestures, individual freedom, language, music, values and work ethic. It is primarily through the agency of their culture that people interact with and modify their environment. Ranch culture affects certain attributes of the land, reflecting the way of life of the people who live and work on it. The ranch culture’s relationships with the physical environment create a unique “cultural ecology.”

The stewardship exercised through these relationships has preserved sustainable environments that are largely unchanged by human behavior. Many of Wyoming’s prodigious landscapes are inextricably tied to production agriculture. Our state’s defining physical features – climates, landforms and natural vegetation – are particularly well suited to stock-raising.  Ranching’s human activity, with all its attributes and works, has preserved open space, protected habitat for wildlife and provided food and fiber for a nation.  The ranch culture is in alignment with resource conservation because ranchers’ lives and livelihoods depend on the good stewardship of those places entrusted to their care. That is why one of WSGALT’s premiere objectives is to facilitate ranch families’ personal decisions concerning their private property, allowing the creation of conditions that will protect ranches for future generations and preserve both a landscape and a way of life.  Through the creation of a properly crafted conservation easement, WSGALT provides a means to preserve the “cultural landscape” of ranching.

Cultural landscapes have been defined as “geographical terrains which exhibit characteristics, or which represent the values, of a society as a result of human interaction with the environment” or as lands which “represent the combined works of nature and man…” or, more philosophically, as “a set of ideas and practices embedded in a place [which] captures the relationship of [its] tangible and intangible qualities.” The value of such cultural landscapes is coming to be increasingly recognized and appreciated.

A noted geographer, Pierce Lewis, has stated, “The attempt to derive meaning from landscapes possesses overwhelming virtue.  It keeps us constantly alert to the world around us, demanding that we pay attention not just to some of the things around us but to all of them – the whole visible world in all of its rich, glorious, messy, confusing, ugly and beautiful complexity.”  Ranchers have always been attuned to this complexity and to the productive, cultural, aesthetic and, yes, theological meaning derived from the landscape.

By protecting ranchlands and ranch life, the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust works to preserve ranch culture, ranch landscapes and this important cultural ecology of Wyoming – and well it should.  After all, “culture” is our middle name.

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Casper College Strives to Serve Students

One of the first lessons I have an opportunity to teach every fall to our freshman animal science students discusses the most important things produced in American agriculture. Often, students guess the predictable answers such as beef, corn and wheat.  My question, however, deals with a much more important part of the future American agriculture. The answer I am looking for, often overlooked by my students, lies within them. The most important thing produced in American agriculture is its young people, and for the future of the Casper College Agriculture Department, these young people are potential students. 

The future has never looked brighter for the Casper College (CC) Agriculture Department. We have always had a great group of young people, talented faculty and the strong support of our administration. Now, with the addition of the CC Ranch Campus, we feel our facilities can help make us one of the elite agriculture programs in the country.

The CC Ranch Campus was purchased last March and has provided immediate benefits to our program and students.  The ranch is 167 acres in all, with 100 acres under center pivot and another 20 acres irrigable with hand sprinklers.  The property includes many multi-purpose buildings, including a large, year-round greenhouse, already able to withstand even the harshest of cold spells.   Also included is a small meats lab with a walk-in freezer, fabrication room and overhead rail system, which has greatly complimented our animal science classes.  

Livestock pens, barn space and room to expand were also part of the attractiveness of the new property. One thing our Department had always been hampered with is the limited space for our livestock.  For years, our rodeo team has hauled practice stock to and from the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds everyday during practice. This takes a huge toll on our coaches and the students’ time, our vehicles and the livestock, not to mention the expense of hauling the livestock back and forth on an almost daily basis. 

From my perspective as an instructor and alumni of our program, the ranch campus is a true blessing with countless opportunities ahead. About the only thing it doesn’t have that our program needs is an indoor teaching arena to expand our course offerings and provide our rodeo team with a home.  What the new property does have, though, is a great deal of space.  We are currently in the final stages of designing the new indoor teaching facility.  We are also in the finishing stages of completing a fundraising campaign for the project. Naming opportunities still exist!

Our vision for the future is truly exciting. We plan to have a working farm/ranch for our students to get their hands dirty and boots muddy.  Our hope is to start our own Casper College beef herd, sheep flock and swine herd.  We want our students to not only learn concepts in the classroom but be able to apply these to practical experiences at the CC Ranch Campus. We want our students to be able to calve cows, dock lambs and wean pigs.  Many of our students would like the chance to take some of the offspring and develop them for sales or shows. In the future, the more our students can be involved, the greater the learning experience and the more satisfied we all will be.

In the future, we plan for our rodeo team to keep their horses, trailers and tack at the ranch. We plan to have all our practice stock there, including our leased bucking stock for the season.  We plan to practice in our own equine facility and feed our stock our own hay.  Students can rope and ride inside our own equine facility while the wind blows and snow flies outside.  

We plan to continue to provide degrees for student in the subjects of Animal Science, Range Management, Ag Communications and Ag Business. We are committed to continuing our winning tradition with the livestock judging team and turning out All-Americans like the three we graduated this past spring. We plan to have the best rodeo team in the Central Rocky Mountain Region, following in the footsteps of the teams who were regional champs in 2011-12 and the College National Finals qualifying team in 2014.  

To do this, or any of our future plans, the one valuable variable we need is students. We plan to attract and recruit the best students in Wyoming and the region.  Despite Casper College’s investment in facilities and the CC Ranch Campus, the most valuable part of our program remains our students. If you are a potential student or know a potential student, please contact us at any time for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Winter Roundup promises full, informative schedule

It has been a pretty darn good year for those of us in the ranching business. Unfortunately, years like 2014 are not guaranteed in our business. As experienced ranchers, we recognize that another drought or a lower market lie somewhere in our future though, hopefully, not too soon. Many of you will take advantage of this year to improve your operation – perhaps keeping additional heifers, resting a pasture or purchasing that new pickup. You may also store a little “cash” for that next “rainy day.”

Here at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), we also see 2014 as “A Cornerstone for Building Our Future.” That is the theme of this year’s Winter Roundup coming Dec. 1-3 in Casper. We are committed to helping you to build for your future in ranching as you help us to build for the future of your industry organization.

The first step in building is to have access to the right tools. The Progressive Rancher Forum on Dec. 1 will provide you with a wide array of tools, as UW Extension specialists and others address over 15 topics that can assist you in your business.

The Dec. 2 General Session will include a discussion of tax savings and investment opportunities that can help you to store that “cash.” The luncheon features reflections on the past four decades of WSGA by several of our past presidents, along with their visions for our future. Throughout the day, WSGA committees will be gathering information and developing policy for the Association. After a full day of work, we will relax and support our industry at the Belly-Up Bar and Auction.

On Dec. 3, the Winter Roundup turns our attention to the challenges and opportunities we face in the world of government and politics. Wyoming’s Congressional Delegation, several state legislators and experts in Endangered Species Act issues will interact with convention attendees. We will learn more about the important work of our Beef Checkoff. The Awards Luncheon, highlighted by an address by Governor Mead, will recognize several members of Wyoming’s ranching community for their contributions.

The foundation for “Building Our Future” lies with the next generation of farmers, ranchers and others who will engage with our industry. Throughout the convention you will find a focus on youth. You will have an opportunity to visit with Wyoming’s own National Beef Ambassador, members of the UW Collegiate Cattle Association and members of the 2014 L.E.A.D. program.

Whether you are a member of Wyoming Stock Growers, a rancher who is not a member, a person engaged in a business that depends on agriculture or a supporter of Wyoming agriculture, the Winter Roundup provides an opportunity to learn, relax in conversation with friends and neighbors, and just have a little fun. 

If you are not already registered, check out the full convention agenda at wysga.org and join us at the Parkway Plaza. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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Wyoming CattleWomen Continue Beef Promotion Efforts

Wyoming CattleWomen – what does the future look like? We did a survey in the spring to see what members wanted and what should we be doing.  All came back strongly encouraging the beef promotion arena. CattleWomen do this extremely well and will continue to do so. The face of promotion may change as our times are changing. The food demonstrations in the grocery stores are becoming a rare thing, and serving meals is not such a mainstay as it once was. The hard part is how do we restructure our demonstrations to better reach out to the consumer?

CattleWomen will being doing two sessions of in-store demonstrations over the next couple of months trying to reach out to those consumers that are shopping for their families. One of the locations is in Cheyenne, and the other is in Billings, Mont.

One of the main items we have been known for over the years is the Beef Gift Certificates. This has been a great project for CattleWomen, but as time has evolved and banks went to gift cards, we had some problems with them and were unable to continue using them. We made the decision to go back to the old paper style, but we are finding that there are issues to be faced with them. People are not purchasing the gift certificates as much, and then, they are not being redeemed once they are purchased. Either people just forget they have them or the retailers don’t take them, and the bank that is listed on the certificate has changed names a couple times. The cost of reprinting is expensive. Are we really serving a quality purpose with the old beef gift certificates? We will be faced with the decision of if we continue to promote and use these, how do we adapt them to fit today’s consumers?

We have partnered with the Wyoming Beef Council in the use of some of the checkoff dollars for several years. As they structure their focus of how those funds can be used a bit differently, it makes us look at how we pass these funds on to our grassroots groups. There will now be a pre-approval process that will be looked at by the CattleWomen and the Beef Council to assure that the promotion is in accordance with the Wyoming Beef Council objectives.

Wyoming CattleWomen are like all the organizations  – looking to increase our membership. How do we show the benefits of belonging to the up-line organizations to our grassroots members. How we increase numbers is still a planning endeavor. One way we may utilize is that Powder River Panels is donating a chute to the state that has the largest increase in membership for the next year. Wouldn’t it be great if Wyoming could win that?

Wyoming CattleWomen will continue to be a voice and stay strong in the beef promotion arena. Who else will be telling our stories and sharing our great tasting healthy beef entrees if we don’t?

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