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Keystone, S.D. – It was a year to remember for the annual South Dakota Rural Women in Agriculture conference. Held Oct. 3-4 at the K Bar S Lodge in Keystone, S.D., this year’s theme was “Faces of Agriculture.” 

During the conference, an early season storm deposited 22 inches of snow in the area, and more in other communities, blocking roads and knocking out power all over the western part of the state.

Five guest speakers were scheduled for the conference, and four of them were able to appear.

Ranch life humor

The first speaker after dinner on the evening of Oct. 3 was Wanda Blair of Vale, S.D. with her presentation “Ranch Life Humor.” 

She entertained the audience with stories of exchanges between her and her husband Ed. 

In one instance, she suggested that perhaps she should be getting paid for her help on the ranch. Ed’s reply was that by the time she finished breaking things, she would actually owe the ranch.

In addition, Blair described incidents that had happened at their home. During one of these, she was in a pickup trying to pull a tractor to get it started. Ed was sitting on the tractor giving directions.

Another episode was sorting cattle and the cooperation, or lack thereof, between the two of them. The happy ending to this particular occasion was that the offending heifer was loaded in the trailer and taken to town.

Blair also expressed her annoyance at the pool cue ball, which had been placed over the gearshift handle of the pickup, effectively removing her “map” for shifting.

“I love giving the gift of laughter,” she concluded. “We should share it whenever and wherever we can.”

Service projects

Following her presentation was Fun Night, in which attendees had several choices of projects and crafts to complete. 

One of these was Love Bundles, where towels and washcloths were folded around items such as toothbrushes, shampoo and lotion. They were to be later distributed among women’s shelters in the towns of Lemmon, Martin and Spearfish.

Outside perspectives

The second speaker on Oct. 4 was Olga Reuvenkamp, originally from the Netherlands now lives on a 2,000-cow dairy farm at Elkton, S.D. Her presentation was “Aliens in Agriculture.”

Reuvenkamp and her husband Wilfried relocated their dairy to South Dakota in 2006. She gave several reasons for the move.

“At that time the South Dakota Department of Agriculture was recruiting dairy farmers, since 90,000 more cows were wanted in the state,” Reuvenkamp explained. “Also, it was apparent that agriculture is the number one industry here and that it is a land of opportunities.”

Reuvenkamp herself takes care of the financial and office management duties at the dairy. She and Wilfried hire a few local employees, but milking, feeding and cleaning are done by Hispanic immigrants. 

Reuvenkamp said the Hispanics are good workers. They arrive on time, work hard, and are eager to learn. 

The Reuvenkamps’ three children are also involved.

Ag in the real world

Next up was Katie Pinke of Wishek, N.D. with “Real World Agriculture.” Pinke has been an advocate for all aspects of agriculture, from working for an ag advertising agency known as AdFarm to being employed by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to her current undertaking as a 4-H leader.

She uses blogging as a way to connect with non-farming people who often don’t know much about agriculture. She blogs about everything from the food that is served in the school lunchrooms to her love for the prairie.

“In order to blog, women first have to learn to find their voice,” Pinke instructed. “Choose a platform, but vary the content. Don’t quit entirely even if they must stop for a while.”

She informed the audience that the fastest growing segment in social media is women ages 55 plus. That may come as a comfort to some women who are just getting started in blogging. Empowerment can be a wonderful motivator.

Motivation

The final, keynote speaker was John Beranek of Sioux Falls, S.D. with “Kitchen Table Wisdom.” 

Beranek is a motivator and executive coach who helps individuals find balance and joy in their lives. The oldest of seven children from a farming family, many of his life lessons were learned while sitting around the kitchen table. He said that growing up in such a large family, he faced every kind of challenge.

“My parents taught me to be tough and to help others,” he explained, “because we never know when we will need help ourselves.”

Beranek divided the women into small groups and posed questions for them to discuss between themselves. Then they gave their answers aloud to the entire group. A few of the questions really required some reflection.

Despite being stranded in Keystone, S.D. for a few extra days, the South Dakota Rural Women in Agriculture conference was a successful event, where attendees saw the chance to reunite with old friends and make new ones.

Sponsors for this year’s conference included Farm Credit Services of America, South Dakota Farm Bureau, Cattle Business Weekly, South Dakota Farmers Union, Zoetis, First National Bank in Philip, First Interstate Bank in Sturgis, South Dakota Wheat Growers, Hersruds of Sturgis, the South Dakota State University Extension Service, Dakota Mill and Grain, St. Onge Livestock, West River Telephone Cooperative, Grand Electric Cooperative, Bruce Gordon-Edward Jones, Quentin Riggins, Ridley and Associates and Butte Electric Cooperative.

Melissa Burke is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mitchell, Neb. – Founded in 1980 by Harlan Brown, Brown Sheep Company is a wool yarn-spinning mill that produces yarn for crafters across the United States (U.S.).

“Raw wool is processed in the mill into yarn for knitting, crocheting and weaving,” says Brittany Wells, daughter-in-law and employee of owners Robert and Peggy Wells. 

Peggy is the daughter of Harlan Brown and came back to Nebraska with her husband to help her father with the Brown Sheep Company in the late 1990s.

Founder Harlan Brown ran a sheep operation before starting Brown Sheep Company on the land where the mill currently stands, according to Wells. 

“Brown’s sheep flock was originally produced for meat, until the market for mutton crashed and the meat industry shifted towards beef,” Wells explains. “So, he traveled to Georgia and found some used textile machinery, brought the equipment back to Nebraska and figured out how to make yarn.”

Wool

All of the raw wool used to make Brown Sheep Company yarn is sourced from Wyoming and Colorado producers, she mentions.

Once the wool yarn has been spun, dyed and packaged, it is shipped to local yarn shops that sell the products to customers.

“Some of the first people to discover Brown Sheep Company wool yarn were the Navajo weavers in the Southwest,” notes Wells. “The Navajo weavers continue to be major customers of our yarn today.”

Wells mentions there are 25 employees who work at Brown Sheep Company, including the owners. 

“I’m married to Robert and Peggy’s son Andrew and have been working for the family business for about three years now,” she says.

Changes

Over the years, the production of wool yarn has increased to the point Brown Sheep Company ships between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of wool yarn per week. 

“The entire process, starting with clean, raw wool that ends up as dyed and packaged wool yarn, takes almost two weeks,” Wells states.

Each day, the maximum amount of yarn the mill can process is 3,000 pounds.

“Every year, we also attend multiple trade showsfor The National Needle Arts Association (TNNA),” adds Wells. “TNNA trade shows are for wholesale manufacturers who make yarn, knitting needles and other related products.”

The equipment Harlan Brown bought back in the 1980s has also changed, as it’s been replaced and upgraded with modern equipment.

“The mill has definitely expanded and is more up-to-date compared to the beginning,” Wells mentions.

In 2017, Brown Sheep Company made a trip to Germany to participate in an international trade show, adds Wells.

“In the spring of 2018, we are going to back to the trade show in Germany to try and expand the company in an international market,” she states.

Pros and cons

Like any business, Brown Sheep Company has faced challenges along the way.

“Water in western Nebraska is in short supply,” says Wells. “Our mill has developed a water recycling system where 80 percent of the wastewater from the dyeing process can be reused over and over again.”

Another challenge is the location and logistics of shipping the wool yarn, she adds.

“Since the wool is shipped to different parts of the country, only a small portion of Brown Sheep Company’s business is done in Nebraska,” Wells explains. “The shipping and logistics of the process can be quite the challenge sometimes.”

Wells also believes there are benefits to western Nebraska for the Brown Sheep Company.

“There is a really strong workforce in the Mitchell, Neb. area. Our employees have a strong work ethic and long-standing relationships with those who have been with the company for many years,” she states. 

“Being in Nebraska is an advantage because the company is in a very central location. Even though shipping is a challenge, we’re in the middle of both the west and east coasts,” Wells says.

Business goals

According to Wells, the main goal for Brown Sheep Company is to make high-quality wool yarn using U.S. wool and to help support U.S. workers.

“Our products bring a lot of joy, happiness and warmth to the people who use them,” she states. “We want to continue to grow and expand our customer base.”

Brown Sheep Company is a part of the agriculture industry most people don’t think about because the company is different than what most people would think of as agriculture, Wells notes.

“I would say, in a lot of ways, we’re at the intersection of several different industries, including agriculture because we use wool and all natural fibers,” she says.

Wells thinks the way products are sold is changing but not in a good way.

“Traditional craft shops struggle to keep up with the pace of internet sales and technology,” she notes. “Brown Sheep Company plans to stay with the times and make sure we can get our product to the customers.”

For more information, visit brownsheep.com. 

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Worland – At the end of 2017, Americans were left optimistic at the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but the intricacies of the act and how they impact farmers and ranchers were largely ambiguous.  

“There are changes for individuals, as well as for farmers and ranchers,” said Wendy Tejada, Enrolled Agenta of SBW & Associates, P.C., and accounting firm in Worland.

Tejada and Certified Public Accountant Gary Wantulok, also of SBW & Associates, P.C., overviewed changes in tax law as they relate to ag businesses during WESTI Ag Days on Feb. 15 in Worland. 

Overview

With some big wins and other concerning factors, Tejada and Wantulok said that overall, producers should see some tax breaks moving forward. 

“When we do the 2017 tax returns, we also plan ahead for 2018,” explained Tejada. “We can project what numbers will look like in well as looking at cost saving versus revenue streams, the cuts experienced by WLSB made it difficult for the agency to meet its statutory requirements.

“Decreases in expenditures are hard to find because 93 percent of our brand inspection expenditures are for inspectors,” True said. “If we decrease the number of inspectors, the increase in mileage paid and potential overtime payments make it a wash. Plus, a decreased number of inspectors inhibit producers’ ability to do commerce.” 

He emphasized, “We’re trying to maintain our program, and these offsets will capture most of the cuts we’ve taken to allow us to operate our program in a similar fashion to 2016 for brand inspection.” 

The second part of the fee increase is the maintenance of brand recording increase made in 2017. 

“Brand recording fees will remain at $330,” said True. 

Currently, True notes proposed rule changes have been submitted to Gov. Matt Mead’s office, kicking off the rulemaking process. An announcement will be made soliciting public comments.

Future action

“These increases will offset cuts to within 10 to 15 percent of our previous funding level,” True explained. “The board looks to offset the remainder of those cuts.” 

Currently, the Board is analyzing how to offset the remaining 10 to 15 percent. 

“The Board is looking at changing the fee structure of in-state and out-of-state range permit programs,” he continued. “These changes will be subject to producer review and conversations.”

Before making any changes, though, True emphasizes WLSB will accept public comment on range permits and will gladly accept invitations to have conversations at local producer group meetings.

Initial discussions have proposed a model using a tiered-structure to start the conversation. 

“For example, a price structure for 400 head or less and 400 head or more would be differentiated,” he explained. “The discussion will extend to the number of tiers and what the pricing structure will look like.”

Timeline

These changes, according to True, require a statutory change, which must pass through the Wyoming Legislature for approval. 

“We would like to offer a concept to the Joint Agriculture Committee and draft some legislation to enact those changes by 2020,” he said. “The board will carefully consider this effort, but we’re also going to move promptly.” 

Animal health 

Several important topics arose during animal health discussions, including the recent quarantine as a result of Equine Herpes Virus-1 (EHV-1) and swine import requirements. 

“We had a very well-controlled isolated incident of Equine Herpes Virus-1 Neurologic Syndrome, which is better known as Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy,” Logan explained. “The bottom line is, four horses confirmed positive, and two of those horses were euthanized as a result.”

The four affected horses were owned by four different people, and as a result of the diseases, four premises and approximately 40 horses were quarantined.

“Since that time, two of those premises have been released, and we anticipate the other two premises will be released this week,” Logan said. 

Logan emphasized that, as a reportable disease, veterinarians are obligated to report EHV when it shows up in their area, and as a result, he says, “We were able to take quick action and address this incident in a manner that allowed us to isolate the disease.”

Import requirements

“One of the things that was a concern for producers was our Chapter Eight rule,” Logan explained. “This was an import rule signed into effect last fall.”

The rule went out for public comment, and WLSB received no comments during the process. 

“When we sent a reminder to swine exhibitors early this year, reminding them of the change in identification requirements as well as requirements for pseudorabies and brucellosis testing, we saw quite a bit of pushback,” Logan explained. 

The concern leading to the rule’s promulgation was that pigs raised outside of confinement may be exposed to both diseases as a result of feral swine contact. 

“Commercial swine are exempted from the rule because they are raised indoors,” Logan added, noting that other classes of swine required testing for import.

“After conversations, the Board opted to amend the rule and ask the Governor for emergency rule status,” he explained. “The added language would allow us to work with other states to determine which states we would accept pigs from without testing.” 

At the same time, WLSB will begin promulgating rules to formalize the proposed emergency rule for WSLB’s Chapter Eight. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Board. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Pinedale – The Sublette County Advisory Committee of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) is getting down to the nitty-gritty with ongoing discussions about the future of the county’s three wilderness study areas.

A Feb. 21 meeting of the group led to a working proposal for the Scab Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA), a “national conservation area” with management prescriptions for the Bureau of Land Management to follow, pending answers to a question about whether or not grazing permittees might be affected in the future.

The group also discussed the Lake Mountain WSA, opting to continue discussions about the Shoal Creek WSA – the most contentious of the WSAs being considered – at future meetings.

Scab Creek

The Scab Creek WSA sits east of Boulder, and members of the public familiar with the area shared their insights on the WSA during the meeting, noting access to the area is extremely difficult at best on foot or horseback.

Cotton Bousman of Eastfork Livestock Inc. in Boulder, noted “a sad decline” in the Bridger Wilderness surrounding the WSA, with old signs gone and trails impassable. His family owns private ranch lands near the WSA and grazes cattle above Scab Creek.

“It can take a full day to go two miles to get cattle out of there,” he said of the WSA, adding, “It’s a de facto wilderness.”

As chair of the Pinedale Grazing Board, Bousman said, “We have extensive wilderness discussions. The position of the Wyoming State Grazing Board would be to either make it wilderness or release it back to multiple-use.”

Proposals

Amid tense discussions, Sublette County Conservation District Member Mike Henn offered one proposal, commenting, “Turn it all back as a ‘soft release’ for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to run under its resource management plan.”

A “soft release” would mean it could be reintroduced for wilderness, while a “hard release” means it goes back to BLM’s current management.

Henn suggested having “no surface occupancy” and leaving the trails and roads open in a soft release.

Concerns from recreation members on the board included potential lack of access, as the WSA is only accessible through private land. 

Dave Bell, general public member, spoke up, saying, “I’ve gone around and around like a cat chasing its tail on Scab Creek, from 100-percent wilderness to a hard release. I’m still undecided. The only thing that makes sense to me is a national conservation area with prescriptive management. It would be a gain for everybody and satisfy a lot of concerns. I really struggle with this one personally.”

Decision

Coke Landers, who represents agriculture on the committee, asked Henn about “legal ins and outs” of how permittees might be affected in the long run with prescriptive management. “I want to make sure it’s in order.”

“We’ll have the same kind of questions for each WSA,” Henn agreed, adding the sole Scab Creek grazing allotment is currently vacant.

Steve Smutko of USFS, who serves as facilitator, asked if the committee was willing to move forward with the “middle” management prescription proposal until they get a clear answer to that question.

“We’ve had the most constructive, fluid conversation of the three proposals on proposal three,” Landers agreed.

Lake Mountain

Moving on to the Lake Mountain WSA, an emphasis on give and take by all members of the group was heard.

Previously, co-chair Dan Smitherman, conservation member, proposed adding 5,500 acres of adjacent “land with wilderness characteristics” to the Lake Mountain WSA, commenting, “We’re missing an opportunity with the land outside Lake Mountain even though it’s not part of the WSA.”

Bill Lanning, motorized recreation member of the group, outlined “a national conservation area (NCA) designation versus the current Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)” to protect a pure strain of Colorado cutthroat trout in the Rock Creek drainage. 

His proposal included adjusting the NCA boundary to “hydrographic breaks,” not allowing off-highway vehicles or mountain bike use, withdrawing mineral entry, not permitting new surface disturbance or new oil and gas leases, only allowing directional drilling from existing oil and gas leases outside the boundary, keeping it open to hunting and fishing and allowing no road or motorized fire trails, no vegetation treatments except those that maintain or benefit the Colorado cutthroat trout habitat and population and no geophysical exploration.

For the rest of the WSA, Lanning proposed a “hard release,” meaning it could not be re-designated for wilderness and recommended making it the Lake Mountain Management Area.

Reactions

The group agreed on Rock Creek protections, but Mike Smith, a member of the group representing the energy industry, said, “I didn’t see anything that justifies any kind of strong preventative protective management. I don’t think we plop a wilderness area next to a historic gas field, but I’m comfortable making some sort of designation on Rock Creek.”

“There are 14,000 acres protected here as a WSA,” Smitherman said. “So now I’ve lost 9,000 acres of protected land without any gains in the region.”

After more back and forth, Smutko paused the discussion, saying, “I want this committee to continue with this. Lake Mountain is at a good holding point.”

Joy Ufford is a reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner and writes for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By: Brian C. Shuck, Law Office of Brian C. Shuck, P.C.

With the Department of Labor’s proposed new regulations affecting migrant workers, the Obama Administration is continuing its assault against western agriculture. Although some mistakenly view the proposed regs as only a sheep industry issue, the proposed regs affect the cattle industry with equal force. 

Western grazing permittees already face numerous difficulties with federal agencies with respect to grazing permit renewals, threats to curtail domestic sheep grazing arguably to protect bighorn sheep and limits on grazing to arguably protect other species that are neither threatened nor endangered, but the proposed labor regs threaten to end cattle and sheep grazing operations entirely. 

The Wyoming media acknowledges the proposed labor regulations would triple migrant worker wages and put many of Wyoming’s oldest agricultural producers out of business. (See Wyofile article dated April 28, 2015.) Wyoming livestock producers agree. 

“Our family’s cattle and sheep operations have been in operation for over 110 years, and we have supported Fremont and Sublette County’s tax base and local businesses for over 110 years. Not only would these proposed regulations end our 110-year grazing operations in 45 days, it would adversely impact the local tax base and local businesses,” explains Pete Arambel, who owns and operates Midland Livestock Company, Dunton Sheep Company and other Wyoming livestock companies.

Arambel explains that their sheep and cattle grazing operations would be run out of business if the proposed labor regulations are approved. 

Other long-time agricultural producers in Wyoming express the same concern. Pat O’Toole of the Ladder Ranch, who runs both sheep and cattle operations, explains that the proposed regs “call for the elimination of an industry.” Further, John Raftopoulos of the Diamond Peak Cattle Co., who runs cattle in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, explains, “They will mess up the system by trying to fix it and will make people not use the H-2A system and end up hurting the people they are arguably trying to help.” 

A recent ASI memo explains, “Simply forcing employers to triple their wages will only result in a flow of a projected $45 million out of the U.S. economy to foreign herders’ home countries over the next five years, all while U.S. employers go out of business from the burden. Given the current domestic and international market, however, few, if any, of these employers will still be in business by 2020.” 

ASI further explains, “Each H-2A open-range herder position creates eight U.S. full-time jobs, and the loss of each H-2A position will mean the loss of those jobs, mostly in small western towns.” 

Livestock industry groups question the wisdom of doubling or tripling migrant workers’ wages when sheep industry wool and slaughter lamb prices are not sufficient to support such an increase in labor costs. Such groups also question the appropriateness of the definitions of “open range” and the job description attributed to these workers. 

“First, the Department of Labor must withdraw their proposed wage formulation and replace it with a new common sense rate that is sustainable. Second, the proposal attempts to re define the job description of open range livestock worker and sheep herder. [The proposed regs would] mean many ranchers will no longer be eligible to employ the herders due to fences,” explains Peter Orwick, Executive Director of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI). 

Orwick urges cattle and sheep producers and government officials to file comments by e-mail on these issues before the June 1 deadline. 

Many question the timing of the proposed rules, which originally only allowed for a 30-day comment period and fell during the time most sheep producers are shearing sheep and preparing for lambing and cattle producers are calving. Further, livestock producers report that their H-2A workers are happy and some have been coming back for the last 10 to 25 years. For this reason, livestock producers argue this is an attempt to fix a problem that does not exist, and the proposed rules should simply be rejected. Further, many livestock producers question whether the proposed labor regs are really being pushed by environmental groups who seek to eliminate grazing on public lands and other multiple uses of federal land. 

Given the dire consequences of the proposed regulations, the following steps must be taken to block the proposed regulations.

First, cattle and sheep producers, Boards of County Commissioners, industry groups and state agencies must submit comments to the Department of Labor before the June 1 deadline. It is late in the process to file comments by mail and is best to submit them via e-mail instead. 

A link to easily file comments by e-mail is available on ASI’s website at amhealthmaster.http.internapcdn.net/AMHealthMaster/DOCUMENT/SheepUSA/4_29_15_Legal_Consultants_Talking_Points.pdf.

Next, concerned livestock producers and industry groups should work with the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the Wyoming Governor’s Office and urge them to not only submit comments before the June 1 deadline but build a coalition with other western states to submit joint comments urging the proposed rules be rejected. 

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, acting to build its own coalitions and through the Conference of Western Attorney’s General (CWAG) and the National Association of Attorney’s General (NAAG), has been successful in the past in blocking proposed federal rules by submitting comments jointly with other States. 

Such an approach could be highly effective in opposing the proposed labor regs. 

Brian Shuck is a Cheyenne attorney and he has represented numerous ag producers in Wyoming and Montana. Early in his practice, Shuck represented the state of Wyoming as Senior Assistant Attorney General and was involved in opposing rulemaking proposed during the last several months of the Clinton administration and represented the State Engineer’s Office related to interstate compacts endangered species, federal agency overreaching, and other water and natural resource issues involving numerous Western States and federal agencies.