Ranching

Cooper McKim

It’s a hot day south of Wheatland, near the small town of Chugwater. Dirt kicks up around passing cars on a long driveway as the sunbeams gold on waving fields of wheat. At the end is the Baker Farm, with old water tanks and rusted antique farm vehicles in front of the home. 

Hay prices are spiking this year, driven up by a drought-induced shortage of the crop. It’s affecting ranchers across the board, but horse owners in particular are feeling the pinch. Horses eat higher quality hay, so it’s harder to get. It’s forcing horse owners in Colorado to buy more hay from neighboring states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana and that’s driving the cost up even more.  


This week President Trump pardoned two Oregon ranchers serving five-year prison terms for arson on federal lands. The two men had become a cause celebre in the ongoing fight between ranchers and the federal government over water and grazing rights.

 


A house subcommittee is focusing on grazing on public lands on Thursday. Republican leaders want to discuss what they call the regulatory burdens on the industry.


Public Domain / Jean Beaufort

The House did not pass its version of a farm bill last month, but the Senate may have a better shot this week when they consider the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

National Park Service

Japan is considering hitting back against the U.S. in retaliation for America's steel and aluminum tariffs. A Japanese levy could hurt our region's agricultural industry.

  

This is about two very different visions of how we should use land in the American West.

On the Great Plains of Montana, conservationists and tribes want to rewind the clock and return wild bison to the shortgrass prairie. But cowboys and ranchers say if that happens, their way of life – their very culture – will disappear.

Cooper McKim/Wyoming Public Radio

Winds were gusting over 45 miles per hour on an overcast day at the Dunmire Ranch in southeastern Wyoming. Black cows grazed in the distance with wind turbines lined up on the horizon. At the center of ranch, young colts milled around the corral. Gator, a 14-year-old blind and deaf dog, barked, guarding the home of rancher Les Dunmire. 

 

Inside the house, Dunmire put on his dirt-caked cowboy hat and boots, as he told me how he’s owned this ranch for just over 30 years and that this lifestyle goes back generations.

 

Pioneer Cunningham Ranch Historic Cabin Wyoming
CC0 Public Domain

Organizations in the region are encouraging ranchers and farmers to think ahead about how to pass their land on to the next generation so the way of life doesn’t disappear. As property values outpace the potential revenue from agriculture, it’s harder for families to pass down their land or even sell it to another rancher. 

Cattle Drive Near Pinedale, WY
Theo Stein / USFWS

Conservation groups want a fresh take on management of a contagious disease occurring in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem called brucellosis, which affects elk, bison and livestock. It can kill fetuses, decrease fertility and hurt milk production, and many consider it an economic threat, too.

Tom Koerner, USFWS Mountain-Plains

 

Last winter, protestors packed committee meetings after lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment to allow the state of Wyoming to take over management of federal lands. Republican Senator Larry Hicks supported the idea, but he was open to other options. So, he reached out to Shane Cross and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and challenged them to come with a compromise.

The Modern West 29: Home On The Range

Nov 21, 2017
Theo Stein / USFWS

There’s a reason the cowboy hat is a symbol of Wyoming: ranching is woven into the state’s cultural fabric. On this episode, we’ll take you out on the wide open Wyoming range.

Theo Stein / USFWS

Many ranchers around the West are searching for a way to control a recent increase in livestock killed on the range. At the annual Wyoming Farm Bureau meeting this month, members supported a new policy they hope will address the problem. Farm Bureau spokesman Brett Moline said it’s not clear why people are shooting more livestock.

Lauren Connell

  

A University of Wyoming study is looking for non-lethal approaches to relocating prairie dogs colonies off ranchlands where they can cause problems for livestock grazing and onto public lands. The prairie dog study is the brainchild of UW Rangeland Ecology student Lauren Connell.  

StoryCorps Facebook

An upcoming agriculture conference will look at how to entice younger Wyomingites to work in ranching.

This year’s Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention is titled Educating for Ranching Success in the 21st Century. The average age of a U.S. rancher today is 57. Wyoming Stockgrower’s Association Vice President Jim Magagna would like to see that number go down.

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

StoryCorps Facebook

The Laramie County Public Library hosted a talk last week with animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin. She discussed how her own autism helped her understand the way animals think in pictures. Grandin has used this knowledge to develop methods and equipment—now commonly used in the industry—to make livestock less stressed and more manageable in feedlots and slaughter units.

She also offered advice to Wyoming’s many small livestock producers. She says, some of the old-fashioned ranching methods may need to go, like yelling at cattle and using horses to move them.

The Modern West 5: Wild Horses—A Western Icon In Trouble?

Oct 19, 2015
Dan Hayward

There's no cowboy without his trusty steed, so this month, we explore the role of horses in the Modern West.

Aaron Schrank

Bright neon uniforms speckle a usually empty hay field in the sleepy town of Savery. Two soccer games are in full swing—and almost all of the players are guest workers—like Dante Bruno.

“We’re here to play sports today,” says Bruno, in Spanish. “We are Peruvians. The majority of us here are Peruvians.” 

Bruno, 38, and his teammates wear pink pullovers that read, “Sheehan Ranch.” He’s been working at the ranch--in Baggs, Wyoming—for the past 15 years. Bruno says the work is hard, but not complicated.

“It’s cows,” says Bruno. “Pretty much cows.”

Forecasters say drought and wildfire could ravage much of the Western U.S. this summer. To help farmers and ranchers be prepared, the Obama Administration rolled out several programs last week at a press conference for Western governors. Some initiatives could help Wyoming producers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Robert Bonnie said some short term solutions are necessary. One is to reimburse ranchers who lose livestock because of a lack of grass or water.

The Wyoming Beef Council—the industry advocacy group for ranchers—says it has cut its budget and will rethink its marketing efforts.

Wyoming cattle numbers have been decreasing since 2001 because of drought, aging beef producers, shrinking grazing lands, and other factors. The Council’s smaller budget means that an administrative assistant position will be cut, and the council will only have one employee.

Jerome Brown Reads From "Calves In The Mud Room"

Jan 5, 2015
Jerome Brown

When he's not directing TV commercials, trading stocks, taking pictures, or hiking with his dog, Jerome Brown writes. He lives in Teton Valley with his wife and their collie.

Calves In The Mud Room is Brown’s first novella. Kirkus Reviews calls this coming-of-age story "An exciting, elegant debut."

Melodie Edwards

With goats flocking all around him for ear scratches, you could say Terry Hayes is a happy rancher. He’s the owner of the largest goat ranch in Wyoming, Open A Lazy S outside Riverton, and he says in the last few years his business has tripled. He says it’s because more people all the time are embracing the urban homesteader’s lifestyle. They’re raising backyard chickens, canning sauerkraut and knitting scarves. The number of backyard goats has also been on the uptick.

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Farm Bureau is looking to the January legislative session as an entry-point to address issues surrounding trespassing, liability, and transportation.

Melodie Edwards

Last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was in Pinedale, taking part in a ceremony to sign up Wyoming ranchers to help protect sage grouse. These conservation agreements are called Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances or CCAA’s. They’re supposed to protect the birds on private lands, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards reports, some wildlife advocates question whether the program really has the teeth to make a difference.

Rebecca Huntington

Chef Eric Bartle and girlfriend, Sara Kundelius, moved in the dead of winter from Portland, Oregon, to Turpin Meadow Ranch. The guest ranch is nestled at the end of the Buffalo Valley Road, on the edge of the Teton Wilderness, one of the most remote places in the Lower 48 states.

The couple loves to forage for locally grown foods and brought with them a supply of homemade jarred and canned delicacies to incorporate into the ranch’s menu. They share stories about that first trip to the ranch and their passion for home and forest-grown food.

The 4th annual Local Fest is moving from Pinedale to Lander this year. The festival is a celebration of Wyoming foods. It starts today with a free film festival at the Lander Public Library and runs through this weekend. 

Steve Doyle is a Riverton farmer who helped organize the event. He says this year’s event will be longer and more intensive than in the past. He says there are lots of success stories around the state.

Nita Engen grew up in Centennial, Wyoming. She is the 5th generation of ranchers to own land in the area, and cherishes the community that raised her as a child. Nita tells a few stories of her childhood on the range.

The city of Jackson will host a sustainable food festival this week--which the city claims is the first of its kind worldwide. FoodSHIFT director Annie Fenn says the festival will showcase regional ranchers and farmers. Area chefs and foodies will offer advice on topics including finding the best sustainable seafood and making your own vinegars. Fenn says the festival will spend one day just on the subject of local meats.

Roger Wollstadt

The Powder River Basin Resource Council's Bill Bensel says without a USDA meat plant in Wyoming local meats can’t get to state schools and stores. However, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture's Derek Grant says that’s not true.

“Our producers can take their livestock to those meat plants and then sell the products in the state of Wyoming to restaurants and school and individuals.”

Bensel says the problem is that there are too few slaughtering plants—only 12 state wide—to make it economically feasible for ranchers to process in-state.

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