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Bighorn sheep

apid City, S.D. – Sheep producers educated the public about what they do during the All-American Sheep Day at the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo (BHSS) in Rapid City, S.D. this year. The event, which started with the North American Stock Dog Trials several years ago, was expanded to include the National Sheep Shearing Championships in 2009. 

This year, these two events were moved to the James Kjerstad Events Center at the Central States Fairgrounds, and educational events like wool spinning, consumer education, and sheep management were added.

“The goal of Sheep Day is to provide a total sheep industry experience for all attendees, whether or not they are sheep producers,” explains Dave Ollila. South Dakota State University Extension sheep field specialist. “The northern prairie states South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska make up 20 percent of all the sheep raised in the U.S.” 

“There is a long tradition of sheep production among ranchers in this region, and a lot of the sheep industry’s infrastructure can be found in these states,” Ollila notes.

Educational events

Among many activities available, the public had the opportunity to visit the trade show area, where retailers promoted and sold wool and lamb products, while other vendors set up educational displays. Three different lamb entrees were also served in the concessionaire’s area.

There were also opportunities to learn about wool during several presentations held throughout the day on topics like optical fiber diameter analysis technology and its application in the wool industry, classing wool and wool value as a textile fiber. 

A circle of wool spinners from the Black Hills Spinner’s Circle, demonstrated how to spin wool and allowed spectators to give it a try. 

Claudia Randall, one of the spinners, said that the event was a good way to educate people about how clothing and other items can be made from wool.

Hand spinning lessons, wool weaving and wool combing demonstrations were also offered. 

Heidi Carroll with South Dakota State University Extension gave presentations on sheep management topics like safety and quality assurance programs, as well as lambing protocol discussions and lambing equipment. 

Evening events

Events taking place that evening, along with the final heat of the North American Sheep Dog Trials, were a sheep teepeeing contest and youth mutton bustin’. 

The sheep teepeeing competition, which is in its second year, features a team of two people who wrestle and secure a ewe, then place a homemade canvas teepee over it. Then, they hope she stays put until they can cross a finish line. 

“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the tradition of sheep herding and use of teepees in South Dakota,” Ollila explains of the contest.

The youth mutton bustin’ featured 20 young cowboys and cowgirls from three to six years old who rode a sheep for six seconds, as judges score the ride. 

“South Dakota has a thriving sheep industry that many people aren’t familiar with,” explains Ron Jeffries, Black Hills Stock Show general manager. “The All-American Sheep Day is an opportunity for us to educate the general public about the impact of our great sheep producers,” he says. 

Make-A-Wish dog

During the evening of the All-American Sheep Day, a special dog was auctioned as a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

Kelly Jackson of the South Dakota Stock Dog Association has trained a Border Collie each of the last few years to auction off prior to the final competition of the North American Sheep Dog Trials. Jackson, who has trained stock dogs for more than 25 years, trained Sis, who was a well-trained Border Collie stock dog that was auctioned this year. 

This is the sixth dog the South Dakota Stock Dog Association has trained and donated for auction to raise money for the foundation, so they can grant more wishes. The sale of Sis generated $2,100 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

“One hundred percent of what we do goes to Make-A-Wish, and there’s no charge,” Jackson explains. “The dogs are fully donated. Every penny people spend goes to Make-A-Wish.”

Shearing 

  The winner of the 2018 National Sheep Shearing contest was Alex Moser of Iowa. The second place winner was Davin Perrin, and Clint Hahn was third. 

Moser is no new-comer to sheep shearing. He has been shearing since the age of 13, and, in addition to making a living as a professional shearer, he currently helps instruct a nationally recognized sheep shearing school at North Dakota State University.  

“The professionals who earn a living shearing make it look easy because they’ve done it a lot,” says Ollila. “They are like fine-tuned athletes.” 

Shearers competing in the contest were scored on speed and the quality of their shearing. The goal was to end up with a ewe that has a clean, even cut.

Intermediate winners in the event were Ben Fitzpatrick in first, Levi McTaggart in second and Joe Schwartz in third. Beginner winners were Tyler Opstedahl in first, Braden Kopren in second and Rowdy Thompson in third. 

Wool handlers were also judged and awarded prizes based on how well they sorted wool by size, texture and quality. In this competition, Leann Brimmer was first, followed by Amelia Seifert as second and Terrance Pelle in third. 

“My job is to work with the shearer to make his job easier,” Brimmer says of the wool handling contest. “At the same time, I am trying to get the producer a better price for his product. By sorting off the inferior parts of the fleece, that fleece can go into a higher price valued line.”

Gayle Smith 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..

Lander – “Statements used to describe pneumonia in domestic lambs parallel what is seen in Bighorn sheep lambs,” Washington State University Researcher Maggie Highland commented during the Nov. 29 meeting of the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep/Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group.

Highland continued, “An Iowa State University dissertation from the later 1990’s said, “The etiology of pneumonia in lambs is considered to be extremely complex as it relates to management practices and the disease.”

Highland added that, though the dissertation is over a decade old, the assertion still applies to both domestic sheep and Bighorn sheep, in general.

Disease foundations

Highland noted that there are three components to consider when looking at infectious diseases – the bugs, the beast and the burden.

“The bugs are present, and they are what introduces the disease,” she explained. “Then there’s the beast, whether they be sheep or goats, wild or domestic.”

Finally the burden is defined as the stressor, or any environmental situation that the animal perceives as being stressful enough to create a physiological change in the body as a response, either as a danger or as an excitement of some sort.

“I think that the research that is being done is trying to bring all these components together, rather than saying it’s just the bug,” Highland said.

Delving into the bug

While there are other factors that create disease, Highland noted that the bug often implicated in pneumonia in sheep, both domestic and wild, is Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae.

“I consider M. ovipneumoniae to be the most epidemiologically sound agent, and it’s also the agent of pneumonic disease in domestic sheep and goats,” Highland explained. “It is also believed to be species-specific, meaning it is only in members of the sub-family Capernaum, or goats and sheep.”

The bacterium has been discovered to be highly associated with the complex phenomenon of Bighorn sheep pneumonia, and Highland added, “It is often the predisposing factor that can set up sheep for more virulent or more pathogenic disease-causing problems, which are the secondary bacteria.”

Research

In light of the research efforts that have already been pursued, Highland noted that her lab has received funding for the next five-year budget cycle to identify host factors and the immuno-pathogenesis of pneumonia in Bighorn and domestic sheep.

“We’re looking at host genetics and shedding of M. ovipneumoniae, which includes how each species, on a cellular and molecular level, responds to infections,” Highland said. “We will look at both the innate and adapted response to infection.”

She continued that her research team has focused on domestic sheep and has been collecting samples for several years now.

“We’re also looking at the innate and adaptive immune factors dealing with susceptibility,” Highland added. “The last part of our research is looking at vaccine development against M. ovipneumoniae.

Confusing samples

“I talk about confirmed positives,” Highland said. “The reason I say this is because of the difficulty in testing samples and the techniques we use.”

Highland noted that late last year she believed she had identified M. ovipneumoniae in white-tailed deer. However, the current analysis technique amplifies bacteria that is similar to M. ovipneumoniae but is not a Mycoplasma.

“It’s another Mycoplasma that has not been identified,” she explained. “I have found it in multiple goats. I also tested 98 elk, and of those, 87 were positive for this organism.”

She further emphasized that they must be very careful to make sure that a positive test is a true positive, not a similar organism.

Continued efforts

“The more minds that work together from different angles, the better,” Highland concluded. “As it pertains to Bighorn sheep conservation, we’re legally bound to collaborate or interact with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as far as it pertains to management of Bighorn sheep in the sense of disease and disease transmission.”

She added, “When we have multiple people working different angle and good communications, we can reach out to one another to find the answers we’re looking for.”

Saige Albert is managing 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..

Blanket worming a flock of sheep or a herd of goats is no longer a treatment method recommended for controlling parasites, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Great Plains Veterinary Education Center at the University of Nebraska told ranchers. 

“Timed, blanketed deworming does not work anymore. Goats and sheep cannot be completely cured of parasites,” Brian Vander Ley said. 

Sheep and goat parasites are becoming more resistant to dewormers, and with only a few deworming products remaining on the market, he recommends selectively treating only affected animals. 

“Resistance is defined as the inability of the deworming product to reduce the fecal egg population by 95 percent,” he explained. 

Effective option

Vander Ley told producers during the Midstates Hair Sheep Producers Farm Tour that mass treating an entire flock of sheep or goats is a mistake. 

“Some areas have no effective wormers left in their arsenal. With sheep and goats making up such a small share of the pharmaceutical market, the likelihood is small any new dewormers will be developed in the future,” Vander Ley explained. “Even the likelihood new cattle dewormers will be developed is small.”

“What we have left is selection criteria,” he stated. 

The bottom line is, sheep and goats will always have parasites, Vander Ley said. The key is selecting for animals that can tolerate them. 

Breeding resistance

If animals are mass-treated and turned onto a new pasture, they will shed resistant worms and re-infect themselves with the resistant bugs. 

“If we mass treat all of our animals, we are reducing the number of dewormers that will work,” Vander Ley said. 

After a deworming product is used, Vander Ley added, 100 percent of the animals with resistant parasites will be left on the pasture to shed eggs from resistant worms. 

“While we still have a few products left that work, we need to use that time to develop sheep and goats that are tolerant to parasites,” he said. 

Strategies

Vander Ley recommends two management strategies to prevent resistant parasites from developing.

  “Don’t deworm animals at the same time and don’t deworm animals and move them into a new pasture,” he stated. “What we want to do is breed parasites that maintain some level of susceptibility. We want them to produce eggs with susceptible genetics.”

He continued, “Try to dilute down the genetics to replace resistant parasites with susceptible parasites. We want as many animals in our flock that haven’t had dewormers as possible.”

In most cases, 20 percent of the animals in the group cause 80 percent of the problems. 

“That is why we need to select animals with some parasite tolerance,” Vander Ley mentioned.

“Animals will never totally be void of parasites. They will always have some,” he said. “Management-wise, I would keep a list and gradually take animals I treat the most off that list by culling them.”

Infected animals

“Only 20 percent of the animals in a given population are infected with parasites,” Vander Ley continued. “Producers should only deworm the goats or sheep that are infected.” 

Isolating infected animals is not something he recommends, because it creates another location on the farm where animals can shed eggs and create more problems. 

“We should leave those animals in the herd so they can shed eggs that will mate with resistant worms and hopefully help develop animals that can tolerate parasites,” he explained. 

“Don’t blanket deworm all of the animals. It only creates resistant worms, especially in a new area,” he continued. “It can even kill the kid goats, if they are in that area, because they are exposed to nothing but resistant worms, and they don’t have the immunity to fight them.”

Invest in a scale

Animals that need deworming should be dosed accurately. 

“It is really important to use the right dosage when treating these animals. That’s why I would recommend investing in a good scale,” Vander Ley explained. “If we under-dose animals, they will become re-infected with resistant parasites.” 

“I don’t recommend half-dosing them either. It is not a good way to save money,” he stated.

Multi-drug therapies

If producers decide to mass treat their animals, Vander Ley said not to use multi-drug therapy. 

Multi-drug therapy is mixing different classes of dewormers. 

“Multi-drug therapy will have a higher kill rate, but it can also make the animals produce worms that are resistant to the different classes of dewormers,” he said. “I recommend strategic worming, which is defined criteria I would use to deworm any animal.”

Vander Ley recommends deworming products be given to goats or sheep orally by mouth. 

“Never use a pour-on or an injectable with goats or sheep,” he explained. Using pour-ons or injectables spread out the duration of the dewormer, killing all of the worms except the resistant ones.”

“The duration is so long, it actually selects for resistant worms,” he said. 

The veterinarian recommends administering the dewormers in combination with one another and alternating classes for the most impact. He also recommends putting as much selection pressure on parasite tolerance as possible. 

Gayle Smith 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..

The ongoing conflict between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep continues in Wyoming, and in 2017, two “significant events” occurred, said Terry Padilla, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region IV range director, during a Dec. 12 meeting of the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep-Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group in Lander.

“I would argue these events were as significant as the famous Payette decision in 2009,” Padilla said.

Specifically, Padilla pointed to two court decisions – one from the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and one from the Caribou Targhee Forest – as having implications for the future of Bighorn sheep management in the West.

“Moving forward, I feel very strongly we need something similar to Wyoming’s Bighorn Sheep Plan in other states if we’re going to prevail on Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep objectives, in our region. We desire to continue, as a multiple use region, domestic sheep grazing as a way to meet our forest plan objectives,”  Padilla commented.

Medicine Bow-Routt sheep

In 2012, on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force USFS to separate domesticated sheep grazing from the small herd of wild Bighorn sheep in the forest.

“USFS prevailed against the merits of the plaintiff’s issues,” Padilla said of the case, which was decided this summer. “This decision has been a long time coming. This is a significant victory on behalf of all regions and the agency as a whole.”

Additionally, Padilla said a primary factor for the decision supporting sheep grazing was the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep  Management Plan and the work of the Wyoming Statewide Bighorn Sheep-Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group over the last several decades.

“I feel, moving forward, that the rest of the states in the West need to replicate Wyoming’s plan to the best of their ability,” he explained.

Caribou Targhee litigation

The Caribou-Targhee Forest was recently in the Ninth Circuit Court hoping to stay an injunction filed by Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians against a domestic sheep grazing permit held by the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho.

“USSES was in the last year of a 10-year study that looked at the interaction between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep in a natural setting when they were served with an injunction,” Padilla said, explaining the court action would stop the six-week winter grazing on USFS allotment. “We argued against the injunction and did not prevail.”

Ultimately, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho said, “Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of irreparable injury to the Bighorn population in this region of the forest if grazing is allowed during the six-week grazing season. The balance of the hardships additionally tips in favor of the Plaintiff.”

Because the case is in current litigation, Padilla was unable to share strategies for future legal action, but he emphasized USFS is working with USSES to consolidate a unified legal strategy moving forward.

“We must have a consolidated effort moving forward, and that effort must include our producers,” Padilla said.

Other states

Padilla also reported USFS is working with the State of Idaho to collect updated information from the Division of Wildlife to re-run their risk of contact model.

“When we re-run that model, we’ll put together the same brief and get together our supervisors and constituents, just like we did as part of our process in Wyoming,” he said. “In the State of Utah, the risk of contact model has been incorporated in our analyses.”

However, Padilla said USFS must make a decision on a project proposed in the Ashley and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests, which seeks to study the impacts of continued sheep grazing in the High Uintas Wilderness. 

A decision must be made prior to spring 2018 or the agency may have to resort to temporary grazing permits for producers in the area, he noted.

Grazing dynamics

Across the West, Padilla also reported sheep producers are anxiously awaiting decisions on grazing permit applications.

“Right now, I have 27 sheep producers who are standing in line waiting for sheep grazing permits in the Intermountain Region,” he said. “I’ve never seen the demand higher for grazing permits.”

Padilla further noted producers are willing to travel farther for grazing than they have in the past, and changes in the sheep industry necessitate change from USFS, as well.

Additionally, he said review of grazing allotment status has revealed room for deliberation to evaluate the future of USFS grazing plans.

“I feel very strongly we have to start looking at common use grazing on our allotments,” Padilla said. “We’ve moved away from common use grazing, and our country reflects that.”

Padilla noted USFS often must make drastic decisions, which requires copious amounts of evidence, but currently, “We’re being pushed to make management decisions relative to information we have yet to understand, quantify or know. That makes for tough decisions, but that’s the business of public lands management.”

Wyoming Livestock Roundup Managing Editor Saige Albert can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lander – The Dec. 8 meeting of the Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group heard a presentation on the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region Four’s Risk of Contact Assessment, a document that has been highly anticipated by the sheep industry.

“The crux of the meeting was Region Four’s presentation on their risk of contact assessment,” said Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director Doug Miyamoto. “This is something we have been waiting on for a long time.”

Risk of contact

The USFS Risk of Contact Assessment for Region Four utilized observational and radio-collar data to analyze how Bighorn sheep move across the landscape as compared to domestic sheep allotments. The Risk of Contact Assessment provides coefficients describing the frequency of Bighorn sheep on domestic sheep allotments.

“It gives us an indication graphically about what USFS is concerned about, which is helpful,” said Miyamoto.

However, WDA Natural Resources Division Manager Chris Wichmann commented, “This is just a starting point. It doesn’t include anything about mitigation of risks or other variables that play into the actual risk of transmission.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Biologist Doug McWhirter echoed Wichmann’s point.

“The Risk of Contact Assessment is just the first step,” McWhirter said. “There are factors in each allotment that aren’t captured by these numbers, so identifying those will be next.”

Developing the Risk of Contact Assessment was a big undertaking for USFS, and McWhirter noted, “The USFS has been involved in the Statewide Bighorn Sheep-Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group from the beginning, and I’m very optimistic that we will come out on the other side of this Risk of Contact Assessment with the state of Wyoming and the interaction group working even more closely with the USFS, which is huge.”

What it means

“From the perspective of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, I don’t believe that this will change our focus,” McWhirter commented. “We are trying to work closely with the USFS to follow the Wyoming Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Plan together.”

Miyamoto added, “Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Director Jim Magagna made an important point when he said this model does not show, contrary to its title, risk of contact between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.”

Rather, the model shows the likelihood that a Bighorn sheep might set foot on a domestic sheep allotment.

“For example, a coefficient of 0.3 means a Bighorn sheep will set foot on an allotment three times in a decade,” Miyamoto added. “We had quite a good discussion, and the USFS didn’t refute that this is what the model does.”

Similar telemetry hasn’t been done to track domestic sheep, he said, also noting that information based on pathogens present in populations isn’t included.

Allotment maps

In addition to the Risk of Contact Assessment, USFS also distributed vacant allotment maps.

“These maps show what areas are available, which are closed and also where forage reserves that could be considered as mitigation are located,” Wichmann said.

Miyamoto added, “We will be able to utilize these allotment maps for more than alternative review of domestic sheep allotments, as well as for reasons like natural disasters, fire and flood.”

Looking forward

The working group will continue its efforts to address interaction between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep on grazing allotments around Wyoming, and there are several items that they will likely focus on.

“The process to identify factors that aren’t captured in the Risk of Contact Assessment is likely the next thing that will start happening,” McWhirter explained. “That information will come from permittees, agencies and other non-governmental organizations.”

Further, McWhirter noted that identification of areas to address risk and development of mitigation measures where necessary will also likely be forthcoming.

“Overall, I was encouraged that there is not a rush from USFS to propose administrative changes,” he continued. “The Wyoming Plan is built around a key tenant that we aren’t going to take action under a sense of urgency or duress, and what we heard is that USFS is taking a very methodical approach that involves all of these stakeholders working collaboratively.”

Miyamoto also noted that the working group will continue to review the latest science and address the research needs that arise related to Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep interaction.

Working together

“This is a really contentious issue West-wide,” said McWhirter. “We have a largely positive working relationship between everyone in the group, but we have been meeting for a long time to build those relationships. I think that is paying off.”

The Bighorn Sheep Domestic Sheep Interaction Working Group has been meeting for 15 years to address the issues affecting both wildlife and the livestock industry.

He added, “We are head and shoulders above much of the West as far as working together on this issue, and I believe that will continue.”

Saige Albert is managing 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..