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Wyoming Livestock Publisher Applauds Biden Admin For Calling Out Meat Packers

in News/Agriculture
15986

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The publisher of a livestock industry publication is applauding President Joe Biden’s administration for criticizing meat packing companies for taking advantage of the supply chain crisis to increase their profits.

Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that a report calling out certain meat packing companies for raising prices for no real reason was a good move because although the meat packing companies are acting within their legal rights, they are hurting customers.

“There’s no doubt meat packers have been profiting, probably, historically high,” Sun said. “A lot of it was not necessarily because of something they did, but just supply and demand.”

Earlier this month, the White House released a report that explicitly stated meat prices are the largest factor to the rising cost of living. This is partly due to just a few large corporations, including Tyson, JBS, Marfrig and Seaboard, dominating the meat processing market, the report said.

“Just four large conglomerates control approximately 55-85% of the market for pork, beef and poultry, and these middlemen were using their market power to increase prices and underpay farmers, while taking more and more for themselves,” it said.

The four aforementioned companies’ gross profits have collectively increased by more than 120% since before the pandemic and their net income has surged by 500%.

Sun said it was not a surprise that the Biden administration issued the report, as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has been regularly talking with White House officials about the high prices of beef. The report was issued despite the fact that there is little else the organization and the administration agree on, he said.

“The Biden administration knows that meat is part of the inflation and they need to do something about it, but it’s not an overnight fix,” Sun said. “We’ve always asked for investigations into the meat packers because they’re doing stuff that they probably shouldn’t, but the laws are such that they get away with it.”

The recent White House report said: “The meat price increases we are seeing are not just the natural consequences of supply and demand in a free market—they are also the result of corporate decisions to take advantage of their market power in an uncompetitive market, to the detriment of consumers, farmers and ranchers and our economy.”

Wyoming’s annual inflation rate of 7.7% recorded during the second quarter of the year — which ended June 30 — is the highest annual inflation rate seen since the second quarter of 2008, when it stood at 7.9%, according to Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division’s inflation report.

Moving forward from the report, Sun said laws need to be passed that require the meat packing companies to be more transparent and honest about their pricing.

Last month, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require more transparency among the four major meat packing companies. The Biden administration has also announced that it intends to crack down on illegal price fixing and invest to create more competition in meat processing.

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The Fallacy of Gold-Standard Predator Research

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
sheep
2311

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As a frequent reader of new research on livestock production and carnivore conflicts, I am often reminded of the divide between researchers and practitioners. Papers will explain that research was conducted on sheep, without necessary information about those sheep, which practitioners (livestock producers) know will influence outcomes. For instance, we need to know not just the number of sheep involved, but breed, sex, age, breeding status, etc. because these cohorts may react differently in a given scenario.

Last fall, a new paper was published that cited the need for livestock protection to be more evidence-based, calling for more scientific papers to be based on “gold standards” for scientific research. A previous paper by some of the same co-authors went so far as to call for a halt to lethal control until such gold standards are achieved. Most of the only gold-standard studies cited by these authors are for non-lethal techniques, which are easier to study.

It would seem easy to support the call for “gold standards” but too often scientists fail to recognize the realities and complexities of field situations makes that unattainable, and the policy implications are significant. For example:

• Lethal versus non-lethal: 

Most studies assessing lethal versus non-lethal control of predators only acknowledge non-lethal control when undertaken or funded by government or NGOs. Rarely is there an acknowledgment or assessment of the various non-lethal measures already used by producers prior to lethal control, so it’s not really an accurate or fair assessment.

• Feasibility & Affordability: 

When livestock producers make management decisions, the feasibility and affordability of an action are foremost considerations, yet scientists expend little effort in this sort of assessment for field conditions. Having a great predator deterrent is of little use if it’s not affordable, or is only applicable in limited conditions.

• Gold means controlled:

Gold standard research usually takes place under captive-animal scenarios, where variables can be limited by researchers. This is in contrast to field conditions, where researchers would have little or no control of variables that influence outcomes. Researchers need to understand that difference, and that just because “gold” standards aren’t achieved doesn’t mean field research isn’t valid and useful. Researchers shouldn’t stretch to such broad condemnation as did those calling for a halt to lethal control because “gold” standards weren’t used in the studies they reviewed. That recommendation was simply the reflection of researcher bias.

• Motivations Differ:

Acknowledge the motivations and goals of researcher and livestock producers are not the same thing. Much research is being conducted to reduce conflicts between domestic livestock and wild predators, yet livestock producers are rarely included in study design, and livestock producers readily find flaws in implementing recommendations resulting from the research. Perhaps if livestock producers were more involved in study design, the results could be more readily adopted.

• Partnerships: 

The new paper refers to “livestock owners” only twice; once was to discredit the use of the livestock owner’s “perceived effectiveness” of an intervention, noting “widespread placebo effects, whereby patients feel better simply because they have participated.”

Although in an opening paragraph the authors stated, “Livestock owners, natural resource managers, and decision-makers each have an important role to play in research partnerships to collaboratively guide the testing of predator control interventions,” the paper substantially ignored the livestock owner value and role in such research.

• Animal husbandry ethics:

To achieve gold standard research in this field requires experiments that are ethically questionable. A true test of effectiveness of no-control, non-lethal control, and lethal-control would result in the deaths of domestic animals without intervention to protect them during the research. I, as a livestock producer, find that intolerable and would refuse to participate in such research that would result in pain, suffering and death for the animals I am responsible to tend.

Until researchers bridge the divide between the needs of scientists and the needs of practitioners, I see little room for progress. 

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

On Climate Change & Cattle Production

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
On climate change and cattle
1796

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The latest report coming from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is focused on climate change and land, but something must have been garbled in the translation from Geneva because much of the U.S.-media translation emphasized that people should eat less beef and quit wasting so much food. That unfortunate result comes from reporters unwilling to make the time and effort to read the report itself, which – at hundreds of pages and still in draft form – makes for an interesting but not-pleasant task.

The report has some important findings, such as this: “Policies that operate across the food system, including those that reduce food loss and waste and influence dietary choices, enable more sustainable land-use management, enhanced food security and low emissions trajectories. Such policies can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, reduce land degradation, desertification and poverty as well as improve public health. The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action.”

But that’s not what made the headlines last week.

As the Sustainable Food Trust points out, “Contrary to some of today’s headlines that are calling for a shift to exclusively plant-based diets, the conclusions of the report actually find that balanced diets should include animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-greenhouse gas emission systems, and that these present major opportunities for climate adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.”

“As the report highlights, diverse, locally appropriate mixed farming, which counters the damage done by years of continuous arable cropping reliant on chemical inputs, will have a transformative effect on the environment, climate and public health.”

The problem with a global report is simply that it’s global, and each locality/county/state/nation has its own issues that add to the global situation. When it comes to livestock emissions, the IPCC report notes: “All estimates agree that cattle are the main source of global livestock emissions (65–77%). Livestock in low and middle-income countries contribute 70% of the emissions from ruminants and 53% from monogastric livestock (animals without ruminant digestion processes …), and these are expected to increase as demand for livestock products increases in these countries.”

Most (90%) of the world’s cattle are not located in the United States. India has the largest cattle inventory in the world, at more than 300 million, or 30% of the world’s cattle population (domestic water buffalos are included in India’s statistics). While it’s legal to send buffalos to slaughter for human consumption, across majority-Hindu India (which views cattle as sacred) the slaughter of cattle is illegal and the country has enacted numerous cow protection laws. Poor people unable to afford to continue feeding and caring for unproductive livestock are unable to sell the animals, so many are simply abandoned.

Brazil is the number-two country for its cattle inventory, and has been widely criticized for its clearcutting of forest to accommodate more grazing, but that widespread practice has been substantially curtailed in the last decade.

Increasing cattle productivity, as we’ve been doing in the United States, has brought great gains in reducing GHG emissions. Although the cattle inventory in the United States declined over the last 40 years, cattle productivity has increased at the same time (providing more pounds of beef), and most importantly, total methane emissions from the nation’s cattle decreased during that same time. 

Cattle producers in the United States will continue to provide leadership in mitigating the impact of their animals through genetic improvements and selection for feed efficiency, and overall improvements in animal health, reproduction, and reproductive lifespans.

So while we should all strive to eat healthy foods, you don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying American beef – especially beef that comes from the western range {See Figure1: Livestock methane emissions}.

From “Discrepancies and Uncertainties in Bottom-up Gridded Inventories of Livestock Methane Emissions for the Contiguous United States”, Environmental Science & Technology, 2017512313668-13677, Publication Date: November 2, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b03332.
Figure 1.* Gridded (0.1° × 0.1°) livestock methane emissions (Mg/yr/km2) for the contiguous United States: enteric fermentation, cattle (panel A); manure management, cattle (panel B), manure management, cattle, swine, and poultry [panel C; swine and poultry emissions are presented on a county level for the top 5−6 producing states (see text) and on a state level for the remaining states], and cattle enteric and livestock (cattle, swine, and poultry) manure management (panel D, which is the sum of panels A and C). 

As the IPCC reports: “In contrast to the increasing trend in absolute GHG emissions, GHG emissions intensities, defined as GHG emissions per unit produced, have declined globally and are about 60% lower today than in the 1960s. This is largely due to improved meat and milk productivity of cattle breeds.”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

* Note on Figure 1: From “Discrepancies and Uncertainties in Bottom-up Gridded Inventories of Livestock Methane Emissions for the Contiguous United States”, Environmental Science & Technology, 2017512313668-13677, Publication Date: November 2, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b03332.

The Bloody Sire Inhabits the Sagebrush Sea

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Pronghorn nursery
1516

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine

The fleet limbs of the antelope?

What but fear winged the birds, and hunger

Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

From: The Bloody Sire by Robinson Jeffers (1940s)

It’s been an interesting week on the ranch, which is located amid the sagebrush sea of western Wyoming. We had our first confirmed depredation of a 20-pound lamb by a pair of adult bald eagles. This was somewhat of a surprise since our livestock guardian dogs tend to harass big birds that come near the flock, and because most confirmed eagle depredations on livestock are inflicted by golden eagles – not bald eagles. I had watched a pair of golden eagles hunting over the sheep flock the week prior and was relieved when a spring snow squall pushed the eagles away from the flock.

While we were on watch to keep eagles away from the lambing flock, our game cameras revealed the presence of a radio-collared wolf making numerous forays onto the ranch, even coming within a short distance from the house. The cameras revealed our livestock guardian dogs tracking the wolf but returning to their sheep a few hours later. This male wolf was new to the neighborhood but is in addition to an adult female wolf we helped collar last December after numerous livestock depredations and removal of several members of her pack. That at least two collared wolves were roaming our lambing grounds along the Wind River Front is a concern akin to a ticking time bomb. There will be violence – the only uncertainty is when.

With everyone on high alert in trying to avert an animal catastrophe, the sheep are bedded on high ground each night about a half-mile from the house. I’m out as the sun starts rising to feed the guardian dogs and see the sheep off to their day’s grazing. We can generally tell by the behavior of the livestock guardian dogs whether there are wolves in the area. When the wolves are making their forays onto the ranch, the dogs are hyped up, driven by adrenaline, and looking for a fight. When the wolves aren’t around, the dogs are much more relaxed.

Pronghorn triplets
A pronghorn antelope doe with her triplet fawns.

Spring seems to have come late to western Wyoming this year, but by the second week of June the pronghorn antelope that shares our range were dropping their fawns in all directions. It seemed nearly every predator we saw in the last few days had a fawn carcass in the grip of its jaws. Worried about the survival rate of these fawns, an event I witnessed gave me hope and reminded me of the Robinson Jeffers poem quoted above.

As I drove down the county road which splits our pastures, I watched a coyote cross from one pasture to another. A mixed group of pronghorn antelope does and bucks were in that pasture, and a doe immediately took to chasing the coyote. It wasn’t enough to chase it out of her immediate vicinity – the doe performed like a good cow horse, meeting every dodge and turn of the coyote with her own maneuvers, and coming so close to stomping the coyote into the dirt.

The doe chased the coyote over half a mile before it fled under the far boundary fence to safety. According to scientific literature, the doe’s anti-predatory defense isn’t unusual, and this aggression exhibited by a prey species toward a predator is nearly always undertaken by adult females. (I also found a great account of a pronghorn doe teaming up with a short-eared owl to harass a coyote away from an active owl nest.)

Pronghorn chases coyote
A pronghorn doe aggressively pursues a coyote.

Generally as wolf densities increase, coyote densities decrease, but we have both species on the ranch, and know that both species prey on pronghorn antelope here. But many predators – from coyotes and wolves to eagles and bears – are successful at searching out newborn prey species that hide.

A study of grizzly bear depredation on elk calves in Yellowstone National Park found the most common hunting technique used by grizzlies was searching for bedded calves, with one bear catching five calves in 15 minutes. Like our pronghorn doe, cow elk will attack predacious bears, as do cow bison.

Research on white-tailed deer fawns in Minnesota found that all radio-tagged fawns in the study were killed by predators, with a near-even split between wolves and black bears.

The first two weeks of life are the most dangerous for newborn fawns and calves, but as each day passes, they grow and gain strength. By the time pronghorn fawns are two months old, they are outrunning predators nearly as ably as their protective mothers.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment

in News/Agriculture
Bull and cow elk in a meadow, ALT=Unable to eliminate brucellosis, officials focus on containment in elk and cattle
998

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Snubbing out a disease that causes cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves may not be feasible, but Wyoming is working to ensure it remains contained.

Brucella Abortus, a bacteria and one of the causative agents of brucellosis, was discovered in two northwestern Wyoming cattle herds in October. The latest in a line of several outbreaks of the disease since 2003, the affected herds were quarantined. But Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan said the quarantine won’t prevent other herds in northwestern Wyoming from potentially contracting the disease from its primary vector — wildlife.

“In animals, (Brucellosis) is transmitted orally,” Logan explained. “If an (infected) aborted fetus or placenta or fluids get on the ground during the time the bacteria is active, cattle, bison and elk are pretty curious and will lick at stuff like that.”

Brucellosis is at its most dangerous February through June, when the affected species are calving, but he said the bacteria could be active for months if environmental conditions are right.

Humans who are exposed to direct contact with Brucella Abortus are also at risk, said Hank Edwards, supervisor for wildlife health at the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory.

“It goes to humans, but it doesn’t cause abortions,” Edwards explained. “It does cause undulant fever, which is not usually fatal, but that means it’s a fever that rises and falls, rises and falls. It is a nasty, nasty disease.”

Both Edwards and Logan said meat from infected animals is edible. “This is not a food safety issue as long as the food is properly prepared,” Logan said. “To my knowledge, brucellosis has never been transmitted in that way.”

It is most commonly transmitted to humans from unpasteurized milk, he added. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 100 people are infected in the U.S. with the disease annually.

Infected wildlife

Introduced to the Greater Yellowstone Area around the mid-1800s, Brucella Abortus spread unchecked through local fauna until the 1950s, Edwards said.

In 1954, congressional funding was allocated for a cooperative state-federal brucellosis eradication program, USDA documents state. At the time, Brucellosis was rampant across the country with about 124,000 affected cattle herds identified through testing across the U.S. in 1956. By 1992, only about 700 herds were affected and in recent years, affected herds nationwide are frequently in the single digits, the USDA reported.

All 50 states are now listed by the USDA as brucellosis-free, but Edwards said Wyoming is home to one of a few remaining Designated Surveillance Areas (DSA) for the disease.

The DSA in Wyoming consists of Park, Sublette and Teton counties in their entirety and parts of Fremont, Lincoln and Hot Springs counties.

Game and Fish Department personnel regularly test the elk and bison populations — the disease can infect other wildlife, but is primarily transmitted by elk, bison and cattle — in the DSA. Edwards said approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of elk and about 60 percent of bison in the area have been exposed to Brucella Abortus.

“This is an incredibly complex disease,” he said. “We now have that disease in our wildlife population and that spills back into our cattle population.”

In some cases, the disease spreads through wildlife herds at state-run feedgrounds, then the infected species move to feed lines on private property where it can spread to livestock.

“We’ve always figured that to control brucellosis, we could eliminate those feedgrounds,” Edwards said. “But, in another case, we found brucellosis in elk herd near Cody, which did not have access to feedgrounds. So, closing feedgrounds is not going to solve the issue.”

While vaccines exist for cattle and bison, one has not been successfully developed for elk. Even if one did exist, Edwards said administering it to the entire elk population of northwestern Wyoming would be extremely challenging. 

“All a vaccine does is limit the severity of the disease,” Edwards said. “It does not stop it from spreading.”

Livestock interaction

After decades of aggressively targeting the brucellosis in the U.S., the federal and state campaigns were successful and the disease disappeared from Wyoming’s log book for nearly 20 years.

One livestock case was recorded in 1988, then Brucellosis in cattle disappeared until 2003, Logan said. Since, about 12 cases have been recorded, occurring in ones and twos every couple of years, he recalled.

“If we get a positive result from a lab test … we immediately quarantine the herd from which the animal came,” Logan said. “That herd will be under quarantine until it has undergone three consecutive negative herd-wide tests.”

In the DSA, livestock producers are required to test their animals regularly. If an animal tests positive, producers are responsible for the quarantine. A positive test in the fall might not significantly affect their livelihood, because the herd would likely be on the home range during the winter months anyway, Logan said. But he explained a positive test in the summer could require the producer to keep the cows at home during prime range season, burning through valuable feed stores needed for the following winter.

There are several theories about the recent proliferation of Brucella Abortus, but Logan said he didn’t believe it could be attributed to a single reason. 

“I think there are lots of factors that come to play in this,” he said. “Some of it is urbanization, some of it is the elk population increase and an increase in large predators. If you look back in history, a lot of this has a lot to do with the reintroduction of wolves (in Wyoming).”

Wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, and a few years later, ranchers started detecting brucellosis in their livestock again.

“What I have been told from various producers is wolves are moving elk where elk had not been before,” Logan said. “As a result, there is more likelihood of interaction with elk and cattle.”

Some ranchers believe using a different vaccine — the original vaccine — would eliminate Wyoming’s livestock brucellosis problem altogether.

In 1997, state veterinarians nationwide banned the old vaccine, Strain 19, because it left a residual trace or “titer” in some animals, creating a false positive for brucellosis in later tests. The vaccine was replaced with RB51, which Logan said is just as effective.

“It creates immunity a little different than the old one,” he said. “But it does not create the titer.” 

For now, constant testing and quarantines could be the best way to manage brucellosis in Wyoming, but Edwards said a solution might be needed soon.

“Brucellosis was introduced into the Greater Yellowstone Area around the Civil War, and for the most part, it stayed there — that’s something we can handle,” he explained. “But in the last six years, we’ve discovered it in the Big Horn Mountains. Here’s the scary part, because we have a disease we can’t really control, if it was to become established in a population like the Big Horn Mountains, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it outside of flying in a helicopter and culling all the elk.”

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