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    New subdivisions are popping up on the fringes of many Wyoming towns. How can we take on growth so that Wyoming will have a strong economy and still be a place where we all want to live? How can we keep the reasons to live here – the ranch and farm lands and people, the small towns, the chance to be part of a community the plains, the mountains, the rivers, the forests and the open views?
    We have to work to create more attractive choices for everyone who is part of the market that is spurring residential development here. We have to make the market reflect the real costs and benefits to Wyoming of each choice made in residential development.
    The people who make choices are in all parts of the market. They are landowners, developers, housing consumers and current residential owners.
    They all need better choices. Landowners, however, especially need better choices. Their need doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. So, in this column, let’s concentrate on landowners.
    Wyoming ranchers and farmers are key players in what residential development occurs, and where. Of all those who love this state, ranchers and farmers also have some of the greatest passion for the land and water and open spaces of Wyoming. They don’t often relish seeing the landscape eaten up by ranchettes.
    Right now, though, Wyoming ranchers and farmers have to work in a market that works in favor of ranchette-ization.
    The prices offered to turn ranch and farm land into subdivisions get higher and higher. In those prices, agricultural families can’t help but see a rare opportunity. Finally, they have a chance to be paid top dollar for the generations of blood-sweat-and-tears that they’ve put into a place. And, for many, it’s a chance to get out from under bank debt that puts heavy pressure on both them and their land.
    Particularly if the prices for their livestock, hay or row crops are low, or if there’s no one in the next generation that wants to take over, Wyoming ranchers and farmers are encouraged by the current market to sell their family place for subdivisions. Even a buyer who wants to keep a ranch as a working place can’t match what subdividers can offer.
    What about changing the economic equation for Wyoming ranchers and farmers? Perhaps if there were another factor weighing in, more ranchers and farmers could make different choices, and all of Wyoming could benefit.
    That other factor might be simply making sure that Wyoming ranchers and farmers get paid for what they really do. If there were more money coming in from running the place as an agricultural operation, it might well be that not as many families would feel their only choice was to sell to a subdivider. They might be able to pay down the debt. And more young people might feel they had a chance of taking on a place and making it pay as a working operation.
    This isn’t going to be a harangue on commodity prices. The idea here is something different: to take a serious look at the non-commodity products of Wyoming ranches and farms.
    Wyoming ranchers and farmers don’t just raise hay and livestock or some row crops. They do a lot more. They do a lot that sustains this place we all love.
    Take a look at water, for instance: well-managed ranch and farm operations maintain clean water, live watersheds, fish habitat, wildlife habitat and running streams kept alive into late summer by return flow from irrigation.
    Basically, Wyoming ranchers and farmers can maintain the spaces, the wide-open views, the whole feel of a Wyoming working landscape that is the core of what developers want to sell. “Your Home on the Range,” the ads say.  That landscape is also what the people at the governor’s recent conference, Building the Wyoming We Want, said they want to save.
    Then why can’t Wyoming ranchers and farmers be paid for doing something so valuable? Why is selling off their places the only way for them to realize the value of those places?
    That is something we can try to change. Working together, perhaps Wyoming people can figure out a way to document what ranchers and farmers are doing to sustain the physical environment - the environment that we cherish, that people come from all over to see, and that too many want to buy.
    We could set up a system that measures and pays ranchers, farmers and other landowners properly for management activities that sustain and improve that environment. It should be done by and through local organizations – perhaps the conservation districts – with funds that might be held, accounted for and possibly matched by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Done right, it could make a difference.
    Or it might. It also might not be enough to make a difference; or it could be foolhardy to fight the tide of change, perhaps turning it in new, unexpected and equally unwanted directions.
    But it could be important to take this first step towards putting a value on and paying for management that produces such things as clean water and healthy riparian areas.
    Meanwhile, another way to change the economics that ranchers and farmers face is to help irrigation districts become active advocates for rural Wyoming life and its infrastructure needs.
    Right now, irrigated lands seem to be magnets for new houses – and the new houses are most often a headache for irrigation districts. But if irrigation districts can be helped to acquire the technology and know-how to adapt to a changing world, they could manage that new housing and turn it into a good new source of revenue that would relieve the assessment burden on traditional irrigation district members.
    Irrigation districts need to gear up to serve the housing on their projects with raw water for lawns, gardens and pastures, and charge enough to make good money on it. Then the districts could afford to rehabilitate, maintain and upgrade their dams and delivery systems without overburdening the agricultural irrigators. They could become a much stronger rural voice in discussions with county officials as to whether, where and how new subdivisions will be built. Making this possible could require some changes in federal rules affecting Wyoming districts, and some aid for new expertise among districts through the Wyoming Water Development Commission.
    Finally, if ranchers and farmers do decide to sell their land for subdivision, they should have a new option for how they do that. They should be able to shape the new residential development themselves, to preserve and perpetuate what they care about most on their land.
    There are efforts being made in Wyoming to do what is called “cluster development” – to design small community groups of houses that cluster around a core of land, often the majority of the original place, that remains working ranch or farmland. That kind of development can also make the most effective use of space and money, so that roads and water supplies and other services can be built and sustained by the project.
    Doing that requires time and money – it’s only possible if the landowner can stay in the process through the development. Then the developer, in turn, has an option rarely available now: an alternative to making the big upfront investment in buying the whole ranch right off, to taking on the high capital cost that pushes developers to cut up that land for housing as quickly and cheaply as possible.
    Right now cluster development is possible under Wyoming law, but it’s not easy. The easy thing is to slice up the land and sell it without a whole lot of thought, effort or investment. The Wyoming Legislature’s committee involved in subdivision law needs to take on the task of creating a bill for the 2009 session that would make cluster development the more attractive option.
    There is a lot more to talk about – how to give housing consumers and existing residents more choices, for instance. Both those groups need more options than today’s too-common stark grids of ranchettes that create debt and tax burdens, and eventually may demand state aid for water systems, but don’t really create communities.
    How about incentives for model cluster developments? Or perhaps up-front state financing of key infrastructure - including water and sewer systems - for the kind of development that county officials and local residents endorse? And especially for in-fill projects in town, to keep houses from sprawling across the landscape?
    But let’s start with the landowners, and see if there’s a wise way to give them some new options.
    Wyoming can do it. Now is the time, when we’ve got the energy and enthusiasm that come with prosperity, to figure out how to grow our own way.
    Anne MacKinnon, Casper, is a consultant in public discussion of natural resource policy, an adjunct professor for the University of Wyoming’s Helga Otto Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, and a member of the Wyoming Water Development Commission.
    Through the years I have been involved in many aspects of the beef industry, but my heart lies in the area of beef promotion. At the recent Cattlemen’s Beef Board/National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Reno I became more keenly aware of the role research plays in our efforts to increase beef demand and ultimately the profitability of our beef operations.
    Our checkoff dollars make it possible to do extensive research in the areas of safety, product enhancement, human nutrition and market research. Research provides the basis for the development of convenient beef products, enhanced safety techniques, nutrition facts and product marketing. Research is the cornerstone in building successful checkoff programs.
    The Beef Safety Research group’s top priorities include pathogen management from ‘Farm to Fork’ with a focus on pre-harvest intervention. Pathogen reduction has been one of the targets, with efforts to curb E. coli contamination as a main focus. In addition, there is continuing research on multi-drug resistant pathogens. These are just a few of the focuses of the Beef Safety Research group.
    Product Enhancement Research has been the foundation of new product development and the further discovery of underutilized beef muscles, particularly those from the chuck and the round. Muscle profiling data from this research indicates that several muscles originating from the round can provide consistent tenderness and have high marketing potential.
    Pre-Harvest Quality Research is focused on Genomics – tenderness, consistency through genetics and product quality. On the management side it includes the feeding regime, animal handling, animal health and improved marbling and quality of animals. Post-Harvest Quality Research includes instrumentation, fabrication and processing.
    In a recent review by a checkoff funded researcher Robert Wolfe, Ph.D., the importance of protein consumption was stressed for the maintenance of adequate muscle mass and strength for all human beings. The Beef Checkoff’s Human Nutrition Research Program has been instrumental in raising awareness within the scientific community about the opportunities for further assessing the role of protein in a healthy diet. In late 2008 the National Dietary Guidelines Committee will begin evaluating scientific evidence for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs such as the School Lunch Program. It is critical to protect beef’s role in these guidelines through sound science and information.
    The beef industry’s consumer is constantly changing. It is imperative that through our checkoff-funded market research we understand our consumer’s attitudes about beef. We need to know their beliefs regarding the taste and enjoyment of beef and reinforce their perceptions about beef’s nutritional value and its benefits. We also must offer consumer-friendly preparation options.
    Through the Product Enhancement Research Team and the Beef Innovations Group there are plans to roll out at least five new products in foodservice and in the retail area. They include Country-Style Ribs, an all-new American Beef Roast and the Denver Cut steak. A number of new “hand-held,” healthy convenience products are being developed. And there are a total of 19 new product ideas being made into “protocepts” with half of these ideas already attracting industry attention.
    Checkoff funded research is vital to the BEEF industry. By making research the basis of our decisions we can be assured that we are producing a safe, healthy, high quality product that our consumer will continue to support.
    Dianne Kirkbride, Cheyenne, represents Wyoming on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
    This is the time of year when veterinary diagnostic laboratories around the country see peak submissions of aborted and stillborn calves and lambs. You and your vet often have a hunch about what caused the problem. The only way to confirm it is at a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, which in our state is the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory in UW’s College of Agriculture.
    It often takes three of us – you, your vet, and the diagnostician – to figure out what is going on.
    An abortion rate of less than two percent should not cause alarm. These ‘spontaneous’ abortions are due to genetic abnormalities, hormonal imbalances, placental/uterine disease, and opportunistic infections. Such losses may occur at the start of calving and abruptly stop. But owners should be concerned when they recognize a repeat breeding problem, a string of abortions, or when abortion rates creep above three percent.
Causes of Abortion
    Important causes of livestock abortion in Wyoming are infectious and, to a lesser extent, toxic.
    In cattle, these are bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus, miscellaneous bacterial infections, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR or “red-nose”), nitrate poisoning, ponderosa pine needle abortion, twins, lupine intoxication, and Tritichomonas foetus (“Trich”). Trich causes early embryonic death, resulting in open cows/repeat breeders rather than abortions. An uncommon but spectacular cause of abortion is inappropriate use in pregnant cattle of modified live vaccines for BVD and IBR. Uncommon causes of abortion are physical injury, any infectious disease that makes cattle systemically ill (e.g., shipping fever), and moldy hay. Starvation rarely causes abortion but contributes to stillbirth and weak calves.
    Brucellosis is once more eliminated in Wyoming cattle, based on federal slaughterhouse surveillance. But it persists in free-ranging elk and bison in the western part of the state. Brucellosis causes explosive outbreaks of late term abortion in cattle. Because it is so highly infectious, these outbreaks need to be identified and contained immediately.
    In sheep, common infectious causes of abortion in Wyoming and the region are campylobacteriosis (“vibrio”), miscellaneous bacterial infections, Q fever (short for query fever), Chlamydophila abortus, and salmonellosis. Rabbit fever due to Francisella tularensis causes abortion in heavy tick years and when rabbits are numerous – we saw outbreaks of this disease in 1997 and again in 2007, fortunately without any human disease.
    That’s two relatively long lists of abortions agents in cattle and sheep. Unusual agents can be introduced when pregnant cattle or sheep are purchased from out of state. Neosporosis is a common cause of abortion in dairy states. We have yet to confirm it in Wyoming cattle. Toxoplasmosis in sheep is common in some parts of the United States. Again, it is rare here, but it could be introduced at any time.
If You Think You Have an Abortion Storm
    If you believe there is an abortion storm in your herd or flock, apply some basic principles. First, protect the rest of the herd or flock. If you suspect the cause is infectious (more than three to five percent abortions; multiple losses in a short period; highest losses among naïve or young stock; illness in dams), isolate affected cattle or sheep from the rest of the herd. Use common sense when handling and feeding animals that aborted. Disinfect abortion tissues and fluids, and then burn or bury them. Wear gloves when doing so. You do not want to transfer infection to the healthy part of the herd on your hands or contaminated clothes. Once you get a diagnosis, and, with the advice of your veterinarian, consider vaccinating or treating in the face of an outbreak. In sheep, depending on the agent, you can reduce losses by mass treating the flock with an appropriate antibiotic.
    Second, get a diagnosis. Submit samples through your veterinarian to a diagnostic laboratory. The best samples are a chilled (not frozen) fetus with a sample of placenta, and a tube of blood from the animal’s mother. BVD virus is now a big concern, and there is a belief that submitting skin from the ear of an abortus will allow the laboratory to rule out BVD. Unfortunately, we need an entire carcass to check for this agent. Submit feed and water, if you are worried about them, although it is rare for either to cause abortion in our area. Let us decide what is rotten and what is worth working up.
    Diagnostic laboratories get a diagnosis in only 30 percent of cases when presented with a single fetus from an outbreak. The diagnosis rate jumps to 60-80 percent when multiple fetuses and placentas are submitted. A common reason for the laboratory report that states “No abortion agent identified” is that the fetus was dead for days, weeks or even months before it was expelled. Infectious agents are destroyed by the decay process after death, so that it takes the submission of multiple fetuses with their placenta to pinpoint the cause. Even if the coyote got to the fetus before you did, you still have the cow. For some diseases, particularly brucellosis, a diagnosis is readily made using blood from the dam. If your circumstances are a real wreck and losses continue, you will see more fetuses. Submit those.
Protect Yourself
    Third, protect yourself. One cause of abortion in cattle – brucellosis – and many causes of abortion in sheep are transmissible to people. These can be nasty and, in rare instances, fatal. Family members who are pregnant or have an immunosuppressive disease should avoid cattle and sheep that have aborted and any products of abortion.
    Fourth and not least, think about your neighbors. If abortion occurs in your herd, and you suspect it is infectious, do them a favor – let them know. Some abortion diseases are reportable (brucellosis and trichomoniasis in cattle; toxoplasmosis, Q fever and tularemia in sheep). That means the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), in the form of the state veterinarian, needs to be informed of the episode. What happens next depends on the disease. If it’s trich, the WLSB will follow a specific course of action, primarily aimed at identifying where infection originated. In other instances, the state veterinarian just needs to know despite no requirement to take action.
    It will take a full-service laboratory such as the WSVL three to four weeks to complete an abortion workup. That seems like a long time when you are in the middle of an abortion storm. If you are experiencing a big problem, don’t assume the submission of one fetus will generate the answer. Let your veterinarian know that losses continue. Talk to personnel at the WSLV so we can focus on specific possibilities, expedite testing, and obtain additional samples. In some cases, you may get the laboratory answer after the abortion storm has passed. The information is still valuable. It tells you something about your herd you can use to improve biosecurity. It may help avoid heartbreak in subsequent years.
     The WSVL website is Quick Links at the site also include how to take various samples. The telephone number for the lab is 307-722-6638. Current information on specific diseases is available at the Department of Veterinary Sciences’ website.
    Donal O’Toole is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Sciences in the College of Agriculture at the University of Wyoming and a staff member of the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory. He can be reached at the laboratory’s telephone number or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
    When settlement of Wyoming began in the 1800s predators were an ongoing problem for the pioneers. Their existence depended on their ability to manage predators to maintain livestock and sustain their way of life. Control of predators was essential for the pioneer settlers to survive. Since most of the population was rural and even people living in growing towns owned livestock of some kind, almost everyone had a vested interest in controlling predators.
    Over time, as Wyoming developed new towns and the population grew, many people became urban residents and further removed from agriculture. As a consequence, people who depended on ag for their livelihood became a minority in the state and had less support from the general public in their efforts to protect their livestock from predation.
    In the 1930s the issues of predator management and the associated costs came to the attention of the Wyoming Legislature. Legislation was passed forming predatory animal boards in all the state’s counties. The boards were charged by statute to form management plans to control damage from animals classed as predators to domestic animals, crops and private property.
    These boards were also charged with the task of protecting public health. Examples of this are rabies in skunks or contamination of public property by bird droppings. Pigeons are a prime example of a bird that can create this type of concern.
    None of this could be done without expending a considerable amount of time, money and manpower so a means to fund these efforts was devised by a county tax fee. This fee was an ad valorem tax on cattle and sheep owned by ranchers. Each county had the authority to set these tax rates. This plan operated for a good length of time. However, the shortcoming of the system was that there was no way to affirm, with accuracy, livestock numbers reported to the county assessor. Therefore, many livestock went unreported.
    In an effort to correct this shortage of funding, laws were changed to collect predator fees at the time of sale on cattle and sheep. Brand inspectors to this day collect predator fees in unison with brand inspection fees. Predator fees are then returned to the county from which the cattle or sheep originated.
    Many counties have experienced greatly reduced cattle and sheep numbers for a variety of reasons. Drought, predation and severe weather losses have been primary factors over the last decade. This has resulted in most predator boards across state operating on very limited funding. It’s left them unable to adequately pursue their statutory obligations. Many boards were literally on the verge of bankruptcy about four years ago and were unable to continue their statutory mandate of predator management.
    Agriculture leadership in Wyoming began to explore ways to restructure predator funding for the boards in order for them to survive. The Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Farm Bureau, Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board were organizations that led the effort. Wyoming legislators were approached with a plan to provide general fund money to predatory animal boards in adequate amounts to enable them to provide not only management of predation on domestic animals, but to allow them to consider losses of wildlife to predation, public health concerns, and private property damage in their programs. This effort resulted in a general fund appropriation of $6 million for the biennium.
    These monies were managed through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the ADMB and made available to any county electing to participate in this funding and willing to meet the rules set forth by the ADMB.
    Eighteen of the 23 county boards elected to participate immediately and one more county is in the process of gaining approval.
    Admittedly there was some reluctance to participate in this new funding because doing so required that local boards raise their fees for all livestock to the statutory maximum of one dollar per head. Goats, alpacas and llamas were added to the list of domestic animals on which predator fees must be paid.
    Results of the more adequate predator management are becoming apparent from the annual reports submitted by the participating county boards. People are beginning to realize that not only are domestic animals benefiting, but so is wildlife like deer, elk, antelope, sage grouse and turkeys where increase in numbers has been seen. This is of great benefit to all industry in Wyoming. Sportsmen and outfitters have increased wildlife available.
    The oil and gas industry will enjoy less objection to their activity if sage grouse populations increase as a result of predator control. The tourist industry will have more wildlife to view and enjoy and believe it or not there will still be predators for viewing by those who enjoy seeing them.
    The $6 million appropriation for the biennium has been well used and of huge benefit. I sincerely hope that our legislators will realize this fact and elect to continue the same level of funding in the future. If, or when, Wyoming assumes control of gray wolves in the state, the burden of predation will be even greater. For those reasons I urge everyone to let their legislators know how important this program is to the entire state.
    Gene Hardy is a sheep and cattle rancher from Douglas. He’s president of the Wyoming Predator Advisory Board and is also a vice president of the Predator Management Board in Converse County, serves on the Wyoming Board of Ag and holds a seat on the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board. He’s president-elect of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association. He can be reached at 307-358-3640.