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Producer partners: UW works with Wyoming ranches

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Encampment – Silver Spur Ranches reached out to the University of Wyoming several years ago, in an effort to begin research projects on the ranch.
    “In the short time we’ve been there, we’ve had a number of projects, and there may be others that could evolve,” comments UW Agriculture Experiment Station Director Bret Hess. “In the case of Silver Spur, we had an opportunity to demonstrate on a large scale the potential of some of the work that we were interested in doing.”
Establishing a
    Silver Spur Ranch’s general manager Thad York says, “We have a lot of connections with the University of Wyoming because a lot of our employees are UW graduates.”
    “I think in the ag world, you have to be on the forefront at all times. You have to dig in and figure things out the best way possible,” continues York. “Having a university that is willing to work with you is something that is important.”
    As the operation continually evolves and improves, York says working with UW provides benefits for both partners in the relationship.
    “We have a lot of different things going on with UW,” he adds. “We do a lot in respect to agronomy, we have a relationship with respect to the heifer breeding project, and we use their expertise in a lot of different areas.”
Research Projects
    At the onset of the partnership, six applied research projects were implemented on 100 acres of farmland and 500 acres of pasture utilizing 1,200 heifers, 70 cows and 150 ewes.
    Hess notes that the opportunity to conduct studies on this larger scale allows the effects of certain treatments to be seen more readily, as compared to the small-scale projects conducted at research and extension (R&E) centers across the state.
    “Initially, I brought in our Extension Forage Specialist Anowar Islam, and he developed three research projects to help them on some forage issues,” explains Hess. “They set the projects up as a demonstration on a ranch or farm scale.”
    These projects evaluated the different varieties of fall-planted triticale for promoting alfalfa reestablishment in both irrigated and dryland settings.
    Additionally, Islam, with UW Extension Educator Calvin Strom, looked at hay meadow response to nitrogen fertilization and forage legumes.
Grazing strategies
    “We also have a project going on multi-species grazing,” says Hess. “We have designed the project to be evaluated on improved pastures and irrigated meadows.”
    UW Extension Range Specialist Rachel Mealor, UW assistant professor in wildlife habitat ecology Jeff Beck, UW Extension Livestock Specialist Scott Lake and Hess looked at whether grazing was more efficient if sheep followed cattle in grazing, or vice versa.
    The results of the study were published in The Professional Animal Scientist in 2011.
    “These results suggest that sheep following cattle grazing may be more beneficial than cattle following sheep grazing in subirrigated pastures dominated by graminoids,” said the article, written by Beck, Mealor, Hess, Moss and Lake. “Future research is warranted in a more controlled setting to determine the benefits of multispecies grazing.”
Livestock research
    In addition to range and agronomy research, Lake has also worked on a heifer synchronization project using cattle from Silver Spur Ranches.
    “When we started, we wanted to evaluate the long-term benefits of AI in the commercial cow,” says Lake. “It has really snowballed from there.”
    With the involvement of Pfizer Animal Genetics in the study, a DNA sample is taken from every heifer that is bred, allowing the researchers to follow through with progeny testing.
    “We are comparing the genetic EPDs with actual EPDs and comparing that against actual carcass performance,” Lake adds. “It has been a long term study. A lot of data, cattle and people are involved.”
    While data is still being analyzed, Lake notes the project has been a valuable research opportunity and educational experience for students.
    “We have a lot of undergraduates on this project, and it has been a tremendous experience for them,” he says. “You don’t get to do this on a scale this large very often.”
    Additionally, while Lake has coordinated the project, a graduate student at UW has taken the research on for his project.
    “From the educational standpoint, one of the neatest and most valuable parts is to watch the students that have been with us grow,” Lake notes. “It has been good to see the students develop leadership skills through this project.”
    “Silver Spur has been great to work with,” he adds. “We have cattle from several states on this project, and the majority are Silver Spur cattle.”
    Bret Hess is also comparing two methods of feeding developing heifers through the winter as part of the partnership with Silver Spur.
    “It is a great opportunity to demonstrate how some of the innovative research and creative ideas that we have a some of our R&E centers can be put into practice,” says Hess.
    “There are a lot of professors that are willing to help out, and Bret Hess and Scott Lake have been very good to work with,” comments York. “The relationship works well on all fronts.”
    Visit for more information. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

Internship opportunities
    Silver Spur Ranches has extended its involvement with the University of Wyoming beyond offering resources for research by developing an internship program. The ranch offers two internship positions to be filled by students each summer in a program that started two years ago.
    “I work with Silver Spur to identify candidates that would be viable for their operation,” says UW Agriculture Experiment Station Director Bret Hess of the arrangement.
    Thad York, Silver Spur Ranch’s general manager, adds, “We have been lucky to have some good interns come from UW. It’s been a very good relationship.”
    York adds that several hires have resulted from internships.

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