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Aliens! It must be the strange combination of Halloween and presidential election season that makes it seem that alien sightings, discussions about aliens, etc. have been so prevalent lately. How to handle illegal immigration has been a hot topic on many of the campaign advertisements and opinions abound about what is the best course of action. Zombies are probably a little more popular among the Halloween crowd this year, but I would bet you have also seen a few little green men costumes in your local activities as well.  With so much emphasis on aliens lately, I thought I would touch on a topic of a similar vein.
    New alien sightings have increased in Wyoming over the past several years. Before you quickly move to, “What in the world are those people at the University teaching our kids?!!” I must clarify that these are “alien” plants – those not native to our area and considered invasive weeds in neighboring states.
    Several new invasive plant species have been found in Wyoming over the past two summers. Were they found near you? Are they something you might have seen before and not realized it is a potentially problematic weed? I will give a brief description of these alien sightings in Wyoming so you can keep an eye out for these aliens in your area.
Moth mullein
    Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) was found and reported by Natrona County Weed and Pest late this summer along Interstate 25 north of Casper. Much like its close and more abundant relative common mullein, moth mullein is frequently associated with areas where the soil has been disturbed. The population found and reported was growing in an area that had been disturbed by recent construction activities.
    Moth mullein is a biennial, meaning it lives for two years. The plant has very attractive yellow or white flowers that some people think resemble a moth. It spends its first year of growth as a basal rosette, which is a relatively round cluster of leaves that grow near the soil surface without sending up a vertical flowering stem. It produces flowering stems and seeds during the second year of growth.
    Although it is facilitated by disturbance, moth mullein has been documented moving into perennial forage crops, pastures and rangelands in other parts of the country, thereby reducing forage quality. It has been intentionally planted for ornamental purposes in some states, but its ability to invade natural areas makes it undesirable. An additional characteristic that makes it very difficult to control once a population becomes established is that the seeds it produces may stay alive in the soil for 100+ years. It is listed as a Class B noxious weed in Colorado.
Dame’s rocket
    Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is not necessarily a new plant in Wyoming. This showy white to purple-flowered biennial mustard has been planted as an ornamental plant for quite some time.
     However, in recent years it has been showing up in increasing numbers in areas where it has not been planted.
    The plant has lance-shaped leaves with small teeth along the edges, but the large clusters of flowers are the most conspicuous and often-noticed characteristic. Many people have made the mistaken assumption that dame’s rocket is a native wildflower. It is often sold as such in “native wildflower” seed packets, but it was introduced from Europe many years ago. Once a population becomes established this plant can form dense stands which may exclude other desirable vegetation. Like many of our problematic mustards, control is difficult once patches become large. Dame’s rocket is also a Class B noxious weed in Colorado.
Rush skeletonweed
    Several times since recently has another very problematic alien species made appearances in western Wyoming. Rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea) is a perennial weed with a similar growth pattern to some weeds with which we are already familiar – Russian knapweed, Canada thistle and other creeping perennial species. It was found in Sublette County in 2006, Lincoln County in 2010 and Teton County in 2011. Other instances in Wyoming have been reported, but not documented formally.
    Unlike the previous two plants discussed here, Rush skeletonweed is not grown as an ornamental plant. It was reportedly introduced as a forage contaminant in the early 1900s, and currently is estimated to populate millions of acres in the northwestern U.S. Its forage value is very low and once it becomes established it can form very dense stands which exclude other native vegetation. Early in spring it forms basal rosettes that look similar to dandelion, but as it develops it forms upright stems with reddish hairs angling downward at the base of the stem. The yellow flowers are quite small and the petals appear notched on the ends. Rush skeletonweed also produces a white milky sap that will ooze from stems and leaves when damaged.
    Of these three aliens, rush skeletonweed likely poses the greatest potential for widespread ecological and economic impact in the state of Wyoming.
    To be fair, alien weed species may not catch your attention as much as a glowing orb passing through the night sky. They probably will not be discussed by either presidential candidate as part of their platforms. However, invasive “alien” weeds impose significant harm to our natural resources in Wyoming.
    The diligent work of Wyoming Weed and Pest, other agencies and you, as a citizen, in locating and managing newly emerging weed threats to our state will pay large dividends into the future. For more information about any of these plants, visit, contact your local UW extension office or your county Weed and Pest District.
    Brian A. Mealor is an Assistant Professor and Weed Extension Specialist at the University of Wyoming and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. More information about ongoing weed science research at the University of Wyoming can be found at

Argentine Bad Acts Hurt Rural America
By Chuck Kiker, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Board member

    Today’s ranching community has a number of concerns headed our way.  From a stalled Farm Bill in Congress, increased feed and fuel prices, increased oversight from the EPA, the list goes on; one thing we don’t need added to this list is an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the U.S. or unfair trading practices from exporting countries.  The recent actions taken by Argentina could amount to just that.
     Ranchers like me have been targeted for years by Argentine special interests hoping to carve out a part of the U.S. beef market despite the country’s problems with Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) and inadequate testing and monitoring capabilities.
     For those not familiar with FMD, it is an airborne disease that if brought to the U.S. would decimate our country’s beef industry.  If this disease infects the U.S. herd, it could inflict billions in damage to one of America’s lone economic bright spots - rural America.  That’s why lawmakers and Administration officials stood strong against Argentine lobbying pressure and blocked their attempts to ship potentially contaminated product into America.
     Now, Argentina has taken their case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is asking officials in far away countries to jeopardize the U.S. economy by forcing us to grant market access.  And it’s not the first time Argentina has sought WTO assistance in harming U.S. farmers and ranchers.
    They are currently asking the international trade body to give them part of the U.S. lemon market, too, which was also sealed off because of disease concerns.  Years ago, Argentina teamed with Brazil in WTO courts to target policies important to U.S. cotton farmers.  Threats have been made against other farm policies.  And alongside Brazil and India, Argentina has helped derail international trade negotiations that could further open global markets to U.S. farm and ranch products.
     Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Argentine bad acts against rural America.
     When Argentina declared the largest debt default in the history of the world earlier this decade, U.S. businesses and taxpayers stepped up and gave the country billions to survive economic collapse.  But Argentina refuses to pay America back despite no fewer than 88 U.S. court judgments to do so.  This has limited available capital in America when we need it the most and has even harmed retirement funds that lost money in the deal.
     What’s worse, Argentina used some of this borrowed income on agricultural infrastructure improvements that, when combined with the country’s massive currency deflation, gave Argentinians an advantage in global markets.
     John VanSickle, an agricultural economist from the University of Florida, found in 2009 that these acts helped Argentine farm exports increase by nearly $9 billion from 2000 to 2007.
     When the dust settles from November’s elections, U.S. officials need to take a hard stand against Argentina.  All legislative, administrative and diplomatic channels should be used to protect U.S. jobs, keep our food system free of foreign disease, and force the country to repay their debts.
    Chuck Kiker is a Texas cattleman who sits on the board of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.
Can you afford preconditioning programs? Can you afford not to implement them? Recent research at Kansas State has tried to put economic values on various preconditioning programs.
    Feedlots nationwide were surveyed to determine the value of various preconditioning programs as well as various types of certification in terms of willingness to pay for calves. The feedlots surveyed were mostly large, with 95 percent of respondents having at least 1,000 head capacity. Of those surveyed, on average 23 percent of the cattle purchased had undergone some form of preconditioning. However some operators indicated that greater than 75 percent of the cattle they buy had undergone some preconditioning.
    As expected, the survey suggests feedlots generally prefer calves that have undergone some sort of preconditioning program and are willing to pay extra for them.
Health programs
    Feedlot operators generally stated that having identified health programs prior to the feedlot setting tended to decrease morbidity and increase efficiency and gains. However, feeders also realized these animals were likely to cost more to purchase. The type of verification also appears to be important in the premiums paid for calves that have undergone some form of preconditioning.
    Results indicated that calves vaccinated against respiratory and clostridial/blackleg as well as being treated for both internal and external parasites were likely to receive a $1.93 per hundredweight premium over calves without any prior health program.
    Interestingly, it appears weaning plays an even bigger role in premiums.
    For calves that had undergone the same health program but had been weaned for a minimum of 30 days prior to shipping increased the premium to $7.25 per hundredweight – an increase of $5.35 per hundredweight for the weaning claim over just the health program. If the weaning were increased to 45 days, the total premium increased to $12.15 per hundredweight. The additional 15 days of weaning is worth $5.10 per hundredweight over the 30 day weaned calves.
    However, verification of these claims also increased the premiums.
    The above results were for claims made by the seller alone. If third party verification, such as a pharmaceutical company or veterinarian, is included, all of the above premiums would increase by $0.85 per hundredweight. USDA certification increased the premiums by $2.37 per hundredweight.
    Whether or not verification pays will depend on the cost of such verification. Compare the cost to the expected increase in revenues, which for a 500 pound steer with USDA certification should be worth $11.85 per head.
Age and source
    Perhaps one of the easiest premiums to be received is the age and source verification (ASV).
    As ASV has become increasingly important for export markets, respondents said that calves that had ASV would bring a premium of $5.84 per hundredwight. Again, on a 500 pound steer that translates to an increase of almost $30 per head. The estimated cost of ASV for those operations already tagging calves was only four dollars per head.
    Surprisingly, respondents stated that only 16 percent of placements were currently age and source verified.
More studies
    In a similar study of the Superior Livestock Auction (SLA), these preconditioning premiums varied only slightly. Based on 10 years of data, VAC34 programs have steadily brought two to four dollar per hundredweight premiums, while weaning programs have increased from two dollars per hundredweight in 2001 to over $4.50 per hundredweight in recent years.
    There appeared to be more ASV calves going through SLA, and premiums were often in the two to three dollars per hundredweight range.
    In short, calves that had a health program, were weaned a minimum of 30 days and were age and source verified, brought premiums in the range of eight to 11 dollars per hundredweight through the SLA in recent years.
    These are all important options to consider when preparing to market calves this fall. An interesting note is that the research at Kansas State was based on $140 per hundredweight steer prices for a 650-pound steer, and expectations are that as cattle prices rise, these premiums will increase on a similar scale.
    Given the restricted supply of calves in coming years, I would not be surprised to see prices at or above this range for a while. Therefore, the opportunity cost of not utilizing these programs will be higher.
    Is the additional revenue sufficient to cover the cost of preconditioning? I’m not sure because each operation is different, and only you can compare the cost of enacting these programs. But, the data suggests there are some premiums to be had.
    For more information, the Kansas State study can be found at John Ritten is the UW Extension Economist and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Hay Loads and Harvests
Colonel John L. Butler, Administrator, Wyoming Highway Patrol

    The farming and ranching industries in Wyoming have been hard hit by the drought, and as a result there has been an increase in hay transportation in the state. To help the agriculture industry, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), in consultation with Governor Matt Mead and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, suspended the fees for the transportation of oversize movements of bales of straw and hay traveling into and within Wyoming.
    The fee is suspended as long as the loads are within Class “E” permit requirements and meet the safety measures and movement restrictions in WYDOT rules. This means permit fees are waived for loads up to 12 feet, six inches wide and 15 feet high. Sizes beyond these parameters are not allowed.
    The fee suspension is set to expire at the end of 2012, but WYDOT and the Highway Patrol will study whether it should be extended in order to continue to assist with hay movement.
    The following are safety requirements that currently apply. Oversize movements are limited to daylight hours on all non-interstate roadways. Loads must have warning flags, either red or fluorescent, at the extremities of the four corners of the load. They need a clean and fully visible “oversize load” sign, and they must have outside rearview mirrors on both sides of the vehicle.
    After daylight, straw or baled hay shipments up to 10 feet wide are allowed on an interstate. These loads, in addition to the requirements above, must have the following: amber clearances lights on both front corners of the load; red clearance lights on both rear corners of the load; amber lights – revolving, strobe or two-way flashing – visible to both the front and rear; and a visible “oversize load” sign on the front and rear of the vehicle or load.
    Prior to entering the state of Wyoming, the driver must contact the appropriate Port of Entry (POE) to gain clearance and provide the POE Officer with accurate dimensions and load description. This is crucial, as it prevents operation on a roadway, which has a restriction in place and avoids a potential safety hazard.
    I have been encouraged by compliance efforts and thank you for them. The Highway Patrol and the POEs continue to work with hay haulers to educate them on the requirements and restrictions and to facilitate the movement of hay across Wyoming. We appreciate the input of the agriculture industry as we continue to work together in this process.
    Switching topics, whether it is shipping livestock or harvest season, I understand the apprehension in a community when the Highway Patrol increases its presence. An increased presence usually involves one or more of our five Mobile Education and Enforcement Teams (MEET), along with additional motor carrier troopers and POE officers. The MEET mission is to travel to areas within the state to educate and enforce the commercial vehicle laws for all commercial vehicles – not to specifically target a company or individual. This occurs throughout the year, not only during certain times of the year.
    The Patrol’s focus is always “safety first” on these occasions. We work toward safety in a proven, effective way by educating the carriers and offering our services beforehand.
    For example, prior to beet harvest in the Big Horn Basin this year, we delivered pamphlets on the “Requirements for Agricultural Operations on Wyoming Highways” in the area. We also offered the opportunity for our troopers to visit local establishments and answer questions to those interested.
    In addition, we issued media releases advising folks of our efforts and time frame. Some people have taken us up on our invitation, and hopefully we have demonstrated to them our desire to work together. We would like to see more opportunity for this kind of contact outside of harvest time, which we know is an especially intense time of year.
    I assure you that the Highway Patrol is not coming to your areas with a heavy hand. Our educational efforts are focused on highway safety for all motorists. Our intent is to provide an ounce of prevention, or education and information beforehand, rather than a pound of cure, or enforcement after the fact.
    From Troopers to POE Officers, the Highway Patrol is familiar with the issues facing farmers and ranchers in Wyoming today. In interacting with you now and in the future, I have asked all our members to use the good judgment and compassion we always expect from them. I reiterate that the desire of the Highway Patrol is to partner with you to provide the safest roadways possible in our great state. We must continue to work together to achieve this goal.
    Rest assured the Highway Patrol will strive to do its best to continue to serve the citizens of Wyoming with integrity, compassion, humility, commitment and dedication. For more information, contact your local Highway Patrol Office or the Wyoming Highway Patrol at 307-777-4301.