Wyoming Cattle: Open Spaces

BY Wyoming Stock Growers Association | | Comments (0)

Our iconic open spaces set Wyoming as the stage for many cattle ranchers who have lived off the land for multiple generations. For this region, ranchers are the true environmentalists, leading the way in wildlife and rangeland conservation. This would not be the case without the partnership of  natural resource entities coming together to help preserve and enhance our natural resources and continue the legacy of those who care for the land directly.  Open spaces are the heartbeat of our cattle industry. Our ranchers’ stewardship of those spaces is our legacy.

Wyoming is home to around 1,290,000 cattle and calves on 97,093.14 square miles of land. The quality of our cattle is respected across the nation, as states such as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri prefer our replacement and feeder cattle when buying. In addition to outstanding quality, Wyoming feeder cattle also draw people to the state due to good feedlot performance and high carcass value. The pride that Wyoming cattle ranchers show across the nation is rooted in the husbandry of these cattle, from choosing the right genetics during breeding season to providing high quality forage.

It isn’t any surprise that Wyoming has the largest average ranch size and the most open space. Ranch succession isn’t just a topic of interest, but is practiced from generation to generation on Wyoming’s ranches, aided by a friendly business climate and support from state political leaders that gives each generation a chance to succeed. Low agricultural land property tax, no income tax, and no sales tax on feed and similar agricultural inputs give our ranchers added opportunity to make a living year to year. Due to the strong ties that Wyoming shares with agriculture, it is shown throughout our political leadership that realizing agriculture’s importance is not only a necessity, but a must to support our agricultural community in all legislative endeavors.

Along with support from our fiscally responsible legislature, Wyoming cattle ranchers have had the support of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), the second oldest cattle organization in the nation, established in 1872. WSGA is seen as a leading voice for the nation’s cattle industry through their tireless efforts at the state and national level. Three of the current eight senior National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) officers are WSGA members, proving that Wyoming is a state who takes the cattle they raise and the industry very seriously.    WSGA’s efforts cover advocacy on behalf of the industry, public education about ranching and providing timely information to its membership.

Most of the issues faced by Wyoming cattle ranchers are those that face many of the western states from year to year. Water and drought, hay prices, finding labor for the agricultural industry, over regulation, and predators are issues that are faced not only at the ranch, but also at the capitol in Cheyenne.

Due to the recent droughts and water shortages that have affected much of the United States, Wyoming has seen an increase in the cost of hay and the inability to optimize the short growing season.   Wyoming claims the headwaters of five major national drainages including the Snake River, Wind/Big Horn River, Yellowstone River, Green River, and North Platte River. These rivers and their tributaries provide the primary water source for agricultural properties across the state and depend on favorable snow packs each year. The importance of these waters to the livelihood of many enterprises across the state has become more evident as the long-standing drought creates strains that everyone feels.

Drought isn’t the only factor creating strain on ranchers. In May of 2013, hay prices were $217 per ton and, on average, alfalfa hay saw a $63 increase in price from the previous year. Wyoming is known for the high protein value of its hay, leading to the export of this hay to racetracks, dairies, and other entities looking for quality hay. Like increasing hay prices, high wages for employees in energy industry related jobs have made it more challenging to keep qualified employees on our ranches.

Wyoming ranchers have a tool to find individuals who have a true passion for agriculture through programs such as the WAGON Program (Wyoming Agricultural Ownership Network).  Here, young agriculturalists can be paired with a rancher that they work with to enhance their experience and education, build a herd and gain acreage, or eventually take over the operation. This program and other efforts of WSGA are targeted toward succession of family ranches. Wyoming’s cattle industry is in the hands of these future generations.

Wyoming’s open spaces include private, state and federal lands. Federal lands are of the upmost importance for many ranchers. The grazing of these lands is vital to the seasonal operation of the ranch, and ranchers strive to provide the best stewardship of this land. The primary issue faced by the federal permittees is overregulation and challenges to their permits by environmental groups.

Wyoming is world-renowned for the quality of its wildlife.  Their abundance provides both opportunities and challenges to ranchers.  Hunting access has become a significant revenue source to many ranchers. However, an overabundance of some big game species can result in a major loss of forage for livestock. Wyoming has been a focal point for the reintroduction and expansion of large carnivore species, such as wolves and grizzly bears, in northwest corner of the state. Creating challenges to sportsman and cattle producers alike, these species prey upon key wildlife, cattle and other livestock.  Idaho and Montana find similar issues with predation, and the line is very fine between protecting livelihoods and managing species growth in a matter that most people agree with.

Although Wyoming cattle producers face many of the same issues as our neighbors, we are fortunate to operate in a state that is extremely supportive of our heritage and livelihood and appreciative of our economic contributions.  Wyoming continues to be “the right place to be in the cattle business”.

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