The Night the Legos Led to Laughter

We were cleaning out the attic and came across the Lego box. The toy had seen heavy use; the cardboard box was crumpled, torn and stained. It wasn’t completely full and some of the pieces bore teeth marks, crayon stains and even evidence of having been burnt with a magnifying glass. My wife and I were trying to determine what to throw out, what to give to our adult kids, and what to simply haul to the barn to be gone through at a future date. One parent’s trash is another’s fondest memory. The Legos initiated a flashback of Christmases past.

My first Christmas out of vet school I lived in a rented farm house with a six year-old daughter, a four year-old son
and my seven-month-pregnant beautiful young wife. My hours as a new graduate were fair, yet as the new kid on the
block I was on call Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The kids had been practicing for a month for their roles in the Christmas play at church. My daughter was a bearded wise man and my son would play a cow. Neither one grew up to be in theater, so this story is not about dashing their hopes or revealing their potential. My wife’s goal had been to have a good meal Christmas Eve and then attend the play as a family. She had even borrowed a camcorder to record the event to send to the grandparents in Texas.

My job was to eat then go to the clinic and take care of the patients and boarders in time to make the play at church. The eating part was easy. After overfilling on buttermilk pie I dressed in my Sunday best and drove to the ask a vet 1/15clinic, planning my strategy to efficiently complete the evening treatments. With any luck I would get done without a call and meet my “wise man” and “cow” in time to wish them luck and get a good seat.

At the clinic, the plan was simple; clean, treat and feed the inside animals and move to the outside kennels to finish up. Six dogs, two cats and one hedgehog later, the inside was complete. I yanked on a jacket, pulled rubber boots over my good shoes and stepped into the attached outdoor kennels. The air had gotten colder and it was really dark but I found the light switch and was welcomed by six hungry, tail wagging, barking boarders. The chain link kennels had been built on the back of the clinic. Over the years a roof had been added, a feed room built and the gate to the parking lot had been locked. The chain link fence went from the concrete floor to the roof and was attached to the clinic with brackets and bolts. Actually it resembled the exercise yard at a federal prison.

After stepping out back into the kennels, I closed the door to the clinic and started cleaning and feeding, humming
“Away in a Manger” and giving each of the large dogs a little more food. You could tell I was getting in the Christmas spirit. I got done in plenty of time to lock up and drive to the church. It was a Christmas miracle. I hit the
outdoor light switch and grabbed the doorknob to head back in. Nothing turned; the door back into the clinic was locked. I tried again; still locked. Again, yep still locked. I turned the light back on sending the dogs into another howling welcome, which enticed me into a so Christmassy tirade of descriptive adjectives and species degrading epitaphs. I tried the gate to the parking lot; locked solid. I tried the hinges, the wall bolts, I tried to lift up the bottom of the fence and I looked for any weakness along the gutter in the runs. The place was well built and I was trapped. My phone was inside the clinic on the counter. Time was ticking, dogs were barking and I knew my little “cow”
was putting on his Hereford hat and getting in line at the play.

In the light of the single bulb it caught my eye. On the top corner next to the wall was one piece of chain link wire barely sticking out. They were probably singing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” by now. I had to act. Removing my tie, I wrapped my right hand and began to slowly unwrap the chain link. This was good heavy American stuff, not that cheap junk. Each pull and bend took a lot of effort. My tie was snagged and the wire cut into my arm but slowly I was unwinding the corner of the fence. The dogs had quit howling and the urgency of the moment had me focusing all my energy on unweaving the chain link. This made the escape from Alcatraz look like child’s play.

By now, I figured they were probably through the Christmas story and the wise men were bringing in the gifts. I yanked the corner down and, standing on a water bucket, lifted myself through the small gap, tumbling into the gravel parking lot. With agility never before seen I kicked off the rubber boots, unlocked the clinic’s side door, grabbed my phone and ran for the truck. Skidding into the church parking lot I doubled parked behind the Pastor’s car (he’d be the last to leave) and ran up the stairs, tying the tie. I arrived just in time to be handed a candle and join in singing “Silent Night”.

My wife shot me a glance, that to say the least, was not in the spirit of the season as the
kids, including my “wise man” and “cow”, paraded down the center aisle. My wife and I drove home in silence… no explanation would help my case. She had wanted one thing and I had failed. The kids were beaming, looking out the window of the truck for Santa and recounting the entire play. My cow had decided to cow kick the sheep next to him and my wise man had her beard snap up over her eyes but all in all I had missed the social event of their year. The silent night continued when we got home and got the kids to bed. Putting the toys under the tree, I decided to take the time and open the box of Legos. One thing led to another and soon my wife joined me there on the living room floor. We built a house and a barn complete with a truck and one cow/horse animal. We soon were talking about Christmases past and what we wanted to do in the future. I got my wife laughing about my unfortunate incarceration in the kennel and peace descended on my house.

I try to encourage all our Veterinarians to put their family first, take that vacation, leave for that game or ask for
the night off. We had been wrapped up for four years in school and that first Christmas my wife simply wanted
uninterrupted time. Work, meetings and everything else can be put on hold for at least a little time. Just take the
time – they are only cows and wise men once.

I will keep the Legos for myself. I also kept the video of the play. Right there at the end you see me standing at the back of the church, crumpled tie, blood trickling down my arm and yes, clear as day, my Santa boxers hanging out of the hole torn into my pants by the chain link. Merry Christmas.

Let ‘Er Buck


At The Pendleton Round-Up

By: Lora Thorson

The little ranching and farming town of Pendleton, Oregon, tucked up in the northeast corner of the state, got its start along the banks of the Umatilla River in the early 1860s. It has served as a center for the agricultural community and the Umatilla county seat since 1868. The name was chosen for George H. Pendleton, the Ohio senator and 1864 Vice-Presidential candidate. The Umatilla Indian Reservation had been created after the Treaty of 1855 formed the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. The confederation consists of the Walla Walla, Umatilla and the Cayuse nations and is just east of the town.

In 1909, after a wild Fourth of July celebration of greased pig races, horse races, Indian feasts, fireworks and the most popular event, the bronc riding, a group of civic-minded citizens came up with the idea of an annual event. They designed it with the local farmers and ranchers in mind and set it for September, after the crops were in and before the ranchers shipped their cattle. It was formally founded July 29th, 1910 as the Northwestern Frontier Exhibition Association (N.F.E.A.), and informally called the Pendleton Round-Up. They adopted the slogan ‘Let ‘er Buck!’ and purchased fifteen acres that included the existing grandstand and facilities.

The Round-Up hit the ground running in 1911. Ticket prices were set at $1.50 for a box seat, $1.00 for the grandstand and $.75 if you were in the bleachers. Children or anyone who wanted to watch from horseback paid 50 cents. The citizens of Pendleton, always big supporters of their namesake event, help raise $12,000 for improvements and expansion of the old facilities. The event, a non-profit from the start, gave any and all profits to charity. In 1918 they voted to donate their profit of more than $5,000 to the American Red Cross.

By the early twenties the Round-Up had developed a reputation as a great venue for both contestants and spectators. In 1924, a painter by the name of Wallace Smith was allowed to make sketches of bucking horses in the arena. He presented the committee with a sketch that he felt represented the thrill of the bucking horse event.

The committee agreed and copyrighted the image in 1925. Today that sketch of a cowboy in a yellow shirt on a bucking horse is their logo, and it can be found on their world famous Let ‘er Buck calendar. As the reputation of the Pendleton Round-Up grew, the contestants and the fans began to put the event on their annual calendar. In 1915, the Happy Canyon Show, now called the Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show depicting the settling of the American West, made its first appearance.

The involvement of the Native American Indians has always been one of the keys to the success of the show and the Happy Canyon event quickly became a fan favorite. By 1930, the depression hit the Round-Up as hard as it had the rest of the country. After struggling along for a few years, the old N.F.E.A. was dropped and was reformed as the Pendleton Round-Up Association. They again appealed to the citizens and businesses of Pendleton and they came up with enough money to keep the show running. By the late thirties the event, thanks to the constant support of the people of Pendleton, was back on solid ground.

From the beginning the event drew a colorful cast of characters. Possibly the most famous of those was a fullblooded Nez Perce Indian by the name of Waaya-Tonah-ToesitsKahn. Born in 1863, he rode with Sitting Bull in the NezPerce war of 1877. His rodeo career began at age forty-nine under his newly chosen name of Jackson Sundown, and he quickly became a bucking horse champion and a master showman.

Decked out in spectacular angora wollies and colorful shirts he would tie his long braids under his chin and wave his hat to the crowd as he blasted out of the chute. In 1915, he decided to retire. In 1916, at the age of fifty-three he was talked into entering the event one more time. Jackson Sundown became a legend that day on a horse named Angel, winning the bucking horse event and the All-Around title as well.

Another association that gave the Round-Up a solid start were the brothers Roy, Clarence and Chauncey Bishop, the founders of the Pendleton Woolen Mills. With a large source of fine wool in the area, their products were a natural fit for the rodeo event. Their most important customers at the time were Native Americans. Today, they still sell more than sixty percent of the blankets produced to their Native customers. Roy knew that the event needed something more than just the bucking horses to make the show a success. He personally took the giant step of meeting with tribal leaders and inviting them to participate in the event, something unheard of at the time.

In 1936, rodeo cowboys, unhappy with their pay and conditions, had boycotted a large rodeo in Boston. They formed the famous Cowboy’s Turtle Association and one of the conditions for their return to the rodeo circuit was to have Turtles-only events. This was not acceptable to the Round-Up board and they declared themselves an open rodeo for anyone that wanted to come. The fans of the event really didn’t care who was in the arena, they just loved the show. After working out an agreement, the Turtles returned to the Round-Up in 1939.

These days, by the second week of September, the whole town of Pendleton has been fully engulfed in Round-Up business for months. The impact on the city is enormous, bringing in more than 50,000 fans and contestants to town every year. It starts with a dress-up parade with boy scouts and girl scouts and the high school band as well as many businesses building floats for competition. The Happy Canyon Pageant and Wild West Show starts on Wednesday. The competition has ten events, including the Indian Relay Races and Wild Cow Milking, one of the crowd favorites. Unlike most rodeo arenas, the Round-Up has a feature that makes it stand out even more – natural grass instead of dirt. You can always tell photographs from the Pendleton event by the green grass in the arena.

For over a hundred-years, the success of the Pendleton RoundUp has been a group effort. The town of Pendleton, together with the Pendleton Woolen Mills and the members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, have worked tirelessly to keep the high quality of the event. For someone looking for a true taste of the WildWest, Pendleton, Oregon is the place to be in September.

On This Bench


They missed it, they overlooked it or they simply thought it was not worth the effort. The handmade wood bench sat under the kitchen table on the side closest to the door. The thieves had kicked open the locked door and entered the empty house at night through the living room.

This room was actually the log house that was built in 1875. The construction of the log home had been an upgrade from the dugout near the stream and that in itself had been a step up from the wagon bed. The logs had been cut with an axe from the scattered post oak trees that dotted the bluestem grass along Denton Creek.

The crooks scattered the family pictures, knocked over an end table, and tracked mud across the wood floor. They moved down the hall into the bedroom, ripped quilts from a trunk and nailed them over the windows. They didn’t want anyone to see as they tore through the 140 year old home.

They broke into the old upright piano, tossing hymnbooks aside and kicked the piano stool across the room. Once they made it to the kitchen they had their system of search and destroy down to a fine art. Pie-safe doors were snapped off, kitchen cabinets were emptied with the sweep of an arm and the bench was used as a foot stool to search the top shelf. Grabbing what loot they thought would resale they left through the kitchen door driving a boot toe through the screen.

There were footprints in the mud down to the county road and tire tracks leading up to the asphalt. My brother-in-law found the evidence feeding hay after dark. Something told him things weren’t right and leaving the tractor idling by the road he walked up to the scene by flashlight. What probably took them only minutes to ransack had taken a family 140 years to build. But they left the bench.

The bench had been made with tools from a carpenter’s trunk – tools that had earned a living and earned the money to move an emigrant family from the east coast to fresh land in north Texas. The bench had been made to accommodate a growing family.

It had been painted many times, the last color was a light blue and much of that had been worn off. As she sat in the kitchen that night, while we surveyed the damage and tried to tell the Sheriff what was missing, my wife ran her hand across the smooth bench top. On that bench her family had made plans to clear land, drawn out the map of the orchard and discussed their dreams.

On that bench new immigrants learned English and first generation Americans learned to read, studied for school and learned about God. Sitting there family members had prayed before meals, during storms, for someone’s safe return and more often than not for rain. On that bench marriages were announced, babies were rocked and problems were solved.

On that bench boys talked to grandma and mom before leaving for World War I, World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. On that bench family members packed relief boxes to ship to family in Europe following each World War. On that bench the first generation to go to High School waited on a bus and the first generation to go to college waited on a ride.

It was on that worn, old bench that fathers waited on babies to be born, discussed the price of cattle, decided who to vote for and figured out what bills could be paid. Through dozens of Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, funerals, weddings and homecomings the bench witnessed a family’s life. On that bench boys were scolded for trapping skunks and bringing the pelts in the house.

On that bench Grandma watched as work men ran wires for a phone and to electrify the house. On that bench my wife’s grandfather wondered why anyone would want a bathroom in the house and on that bench he decided to sell his last team and get a Farmall. On that bench doctors from Bowie sat with the family and revealed their diagnoses of whooping cough, measles and diphtheria.

Good news, bad news, big decisions and everyday discussions flowed across the kitchen table from that bench. Dozens of bib overalls, illfitting church pants, khaki uniforms and hand-made dresses had kept the top worn smooth. When they worked their way out the nails had been pounded back in and someone had added a cross piece to tighten the bench up as the wood dried and cured. The bench had moved from the cabin to the kitchen as the lean-to was enclosed. It had sat under a hand-made table, a linoleum table and a new table with removable leafs. On that bench the family had endured prejudice for speaking German, they had listened to their children speak English and they had learned to adjust. On that bench dozens of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins had learned about life, cried, laughed, sang and talked their way through 140 years. The bench had seen it all and the thieves had not seen the bench. That night, on that bench, my wife ran her hand on the smooth top and cried.

We live in a wonderful place, a beautiful state and a tremendous nation. We are fortunate to live in the country on family land. We are able to call the shots, make a living and raise our kids as we see fit. We have good neighbors and a strong community. We are blessed. Yes, sometimes we start to believe that nothing bad can happen but really we are not that naive. The thieves had read about Aunt Evelyn’s death in the paper and knew the house was empty. We live in the country but we are not isolated or immune from crime. We still pray for rain, for protection from storms and for the safe return of our loved ones. We need to continue to pray for deliverance and protection from evil. I think sometimes what is really important is not always the most valuable material procession but simply anything that ties the family back together, anything that endures regardless how plain or simple. Take stock of what is important.

We spent the weekend walking through the local flea market trade days trying to find the items that were stolen from my wife’s family. Some of the older family members thought maybe the thieves really needed the money and were hungry. They needed our prayers, I don’t know. The doors were repaired, the house cleaned up and the bench is back under the kitchen table ready, with God’s help, for another 140 years.

Getting Intense


Moving cell-grazed cattle at just the right time to support plant recovery is a winning strategy for this Nebraska rancher

By: Loretta Sorensen

Long before he heard Allan Savory talk about holistic management, John Ravenscroft was interested in soil conservation. He was using a four-pasture grazing system on his 30,000 acres of western Nebraska grasslands. However, Ravenscroft decided to rethink his grazing strategy after hearing Savory’s comments regarding grazing a few acres with a large number of cattle to effectively harvest grass with no damage.

“That was in 1985,” Ravenscroft recalls. “At the time, my brother and I ranched together. We were looking for ways to improve our rangeland and expand our herd. We didn’t have access to more grassland but Savory said grazing forage properly allowed ranchers to double the stocking rate. That really got my attention.”

Rangeland researchers have learned that switching from continuous grazing to rotational/intensive grazing can extend the grazing season, boost for age quantity and reduce forage stress by providing significant rest periods. Healthy, unstressed plants have been shown to start spring growth earlier, produce higher yield in summer and continue growing longer in the fall.

“When you graze continuously, especially late in the summer, you graze pasture short and keep it short,” explains Dr. Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin. “In that situation, plants don’t have enough leaf area to intercept sunlight and grow at a rapid rate. That slows down overall growth and production of tonnage per acre.”

Undersander notes that cattle in a continuous grazing system usually tend to graze down an area and then return to it often because they find new, succulent growth there. The result is an area where grass has no opportunity to fully recover from grazing.

“We have to remember that, when forage is harvested either by haying or grazing, a portion of the forage’s root system dies back,” Undersander adds. “If the plant is allowed to recover, it builds up photosynthate (sugar produced by photosynthesis) and rebuilds the root system. A healthy root system means the plant will better withstand water stress.”

Short grasses store energy in the base of the plant, which is above ground. If grass is grazed too short, energy the plant needed to prepare for regrowth is gone. That means regrowth is likely to be slower, decreasing overall forage production for the season.

“Key elements for maintaining quality pasture forage are allowing plants to store carbohydrates for regrowth and maintaining a healthy root system to help them survive a drought period,” Undersander says. “If grass is grazed too short, there aren’t enough leaves for the plant to maximize the interception of sunlight, which is necessary to regrowth.”


As part of his initial transition, Ravenscroft gave serious consideration to Savory’s recommendation that ranchers work in harmony with nature, especially at calving time, so cows have access to the best quality grass when they need the most energy and nutrition.

“For years we calved in March,” Ravenscroft recalls. “One of our first changes was to move calving to May.”

Ravenscroft was so convinced that Savory’s grazing principles would be effective he reorganized his entire grazing strategy in just one year. That first year he established permanent cross fencing to create about 80 400- acre paddocks. He nearly doubled his stocking rate, running as many as 1,500 cattle in one herd.

“I believe there’s a rule that when you first implement intensive grazing there has to be drought,” Ravenscroft shares.

“That was our experience. We brought in yearlings to increase our stocking rate. We usually have about 15 inches of rain but had virtually no rain that summer. No matter how you graze, rain helps grazed grass recover faster. We adjusted grazing plans throughout that summer to make up for lack of rain. I’m not sorry we implemented our grazing strategy in one year. If I had it to do over, I’d increase stocking rate at a slower pace, in case I encountered something like drought.”

Ravenscroft brought his grasslands through the 1986 drought. His biggest issue that year was not having stockpiled grass for winter. Since then, he’s been able to retain ample grass in his paddock system. Now cows graze and receive a protein range cube but receive virtually no winter hay supplement.

“There’s been just one year when we had so much snow we had to feed hay,” Ravenscroft says. “Many times it seems what snow we have blows off from large enough areas so cows can get to the grass. Once they learn there’s no hay coming, cows are more aggressive about going out and finding the feed they need.”

Ravenscroft’s soils at Nenzel are sandy and sandy loam. Most paddocks are quite hilly. In the past, he hayed valley areas found between hills. In his new grazing system, he gets by with putting up about 25% of the hay he used to, harvesting some best hay-producing areas.

He finds native Nebraska cool and warm season grasses on his rangeland. Varieties include Western Wheatgrass, Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Sideoats Grama, Brome grass, Indian Grass and more. In summer, when cattle first enter a paddock, Ravenscroft flags a plant in order to measure the difference between it and plants grazed around it. He wants to see enough leaves on plants so they utilize photosynthesis, regrow and recover before the herd returns.


“There’s always the question, when is a plant recovered?” Ravenscroft says. “You have to ask yourself if you want to see a seedhead or just what you expect a recovered plant to look like. Early in the year grass growth is faster so you have to take that into account. Early in the season we may flash graze some paddocks to take advantage of high quality forage. In spring, we typically rotate through paddocks in 30 days. From there, rotation slows down.”

Plant quality is high when plants are small. As plants mature, they become stemmier and a greater percentage of nutrients are found in undigestible forms (such as lignins). The more undigestible fiber in a plant, the less total digestible nutrient (TDN) is available to cows. One discovery that surprised Ravenscroft as he moved into a more intense grazing plan was that too much rest was counter-productive for his grassland, too.

When grass isn’t grazed, older or dead leaves can shade young leaves, slowing new growth. Most pasture forages regrow from low-lying or underground stems, crowns or roots. Taller growing forages are likely to die out in a continuous grazing system because most of their leaves are grazed off in a continuous grazing system, preventing storage of carbohydrates.

If they’re allowed to recover, tall forage can help shade out shorter forages and weeds, improving forage quality and quantity. There was no time during his grazing transition when Ravenscroft saw cow nutrition issues. Since he didn’t observe body condition problems, he didn’t conduct fecal testing or take specific steps to verify cow health. It took between 4 and 5 years to see grass quality improvements as a result of intensive grazing.

Among the positive changes were more diverse grass varieties, reduced runoff, increased water infiltration and firmer soil. “Our grasses have better root systems,” Ravenscroft says. “That’s important in years when there isn’t much rain. That healthy root system helps grasses recover faster.

Because we move cattle often, flies stay behind with manure, which breaks down faster because there’s increased soil microbiology. If you return to a paddock three or four days after we move, you won’t find manure. It’s been broken down and taken into the soil. That’s especially true in our meadow areas.”


Before reorganizing his grazing strategy, Ravenscroft had grazed cattle in herds of about 200 head. At the beginning of his intense grazing system, he consolidated cattle into one herd, with as many as 1,500 cattle in the same paddock.

Currently he runs approximately 1,200 head. “It took a lot of water for 1,500 cattle,” Ravenscroft states. “We used 30- foot water tanks and a pump jack on a windmill to pipe water to between 30 and 40 tanks. It didn’t take long to realize one well wasn’t adequate. We drilled a new well and went to a submersible pump with a diesel-powered generator to ensure we had enough water. Digging the second well was a feasible option for us because water is very accessible here.”

Although he’s experienced few problems with his grazing strategy, Ravenscroft has tweaked and refined the system throughout the years. Most recently he replaced some windmills with solar-powered pumps, which has proven satisfactory so far. They have a couple of carts that make it easy to move the electric fence equipment to a new paddock. He’s also split the cattle into three different herds for the 2015 grazing season.

“We have groups of mature cows, replacement heifers and first-calf heifers,” he describes. “That means we won’t move cows quite as often.” They pretty much move themselves anyway, Ravenscroft claims. “I was never intimidated by the larger herd. It seemed easier to monitor the cattle when they were all together. But we’ll see how it works with these three groups.”

Keep ‘Em Coming Back For More


Like competition? Head for the Black Hills Stock Show

By: Corinne J. Brown

Ever wonder why so many visitors flock in droves up to Rapid City, South Dakota? You might say to see Mount Rushmore, a memorable American landmark if there ever was one. Or, maybe to attend the mass motorcycle rally at nearby Sturgis; biker heaven for those who ride. But for those who really ride— as in broncs and working ranch horses, how about the Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo, held this past February 3rd thru the 6th— one of the biggest, most well-attended events in the national ranch rodeo calendar. In fact, the Stock Show itself, held from January 31st thru February 9th, is the second largest event in the state of South Dakota following the Sturgis gathering, drawing nearly 331,000 attendees.

“The Ranch Rodeo addition to the Stock Show was started here in 1985,” said organizer Kevin Schmidt, a roper, and the rodeo’s chief volunteer, going on 20 years. “It alone draws some 4,500 hundred fans. One of the reasons it’s so popular is that we’re open to anybody; day worker, full time cowboy; really, anyone who can throw a loop. We’re not affiliated with any national ranch rodeo organization, either. I’d say we draw the true cowboy, someone who’s grown up on a ranch somewhere.”

Not surprisingly, contestants come from as far away as Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and most of the upper Midwest. The Black Hills Stock Show General Manager, Ron Jeffries added, “Most folks don’t realize that there’s some serious ranch country up here and our boys are no strangers to getting the job done. In fact, if I had to sum up the talent in just one word, I’d say competitors from around here are just plain handy; good horsemen who know how to do it all. The main issues our judges consider are speed and accuracy; even bronc riding is judged by a combined formula.”

The statistics for the competition are staggering. This year’s preliminaries started with 54 teams. Within six hours on the first day these were whittled down to ten, plus two more teams, winners from last year’s rodeo and the summer qualifier at the Central States Fair, both of whom are automatically entered. Preliminary events included Steer Loading, Range Doctoring and Stray Gathering.

The twelve teams tackling the finals then compete in five events with a two-minute time limit: a Trailer Relay; Rope-Mug-Tie; Stray Gathering; Wild Cow Milking and the Crown Royal Wild Bronc Ride. A popular team with contestants from South Dakota and its surrounds, the Graff Ranch, took top honors by the end of the day with impressive places in all five events.

Team members include Josh Graff, Olive, Montana; Brady Graff, Ainsworth, Nebraska; Miles Stoner, Woodlake, Nebraska, and Clint Doll, Prairie City, South Dakota. They’re all veterans of this stock show and other regional competitions. In addition to braggin’ rights, the boys went home with saddles, coats, hats, $5,000 cash, and a traveling team trophy. Second place went to Wilson Cattle (Texas) and Third place to Creative Broadcast Services out of South Dakota and Oklahoma.

“The popularity of this rodeo draws new talent every year,” said Kevin, “ranging from cowboys 20 years of age to past 60. We see cowboys from our Native population as well; even past NFR competitors, plus we only charge $600.00 per team to enter.

To think that we started with just 12 teams 20 years ago. On top of that, we’ve got great stock handlers with fresh stock for every round (Burch Rodeo for our bucking horses from Rosette, Wyoming, and Ross McPherson for steers from South Dakota). No animal ever goes more than once. Add a great mercantile, (real useful during the breaks between rounds at the preliminaries) and a sale barn with almost every ranch in South Dakota represented, plus a dance at the very end; we’ve got it all.”

The best part seems to be the spectator turn out; families mostly with wild, enthusiastic support. Most teams have relatives somewhere in the vicinity, all events are manned by volunteers, and the area is a tourist destination. Put it all together and this is one rodeo with enviable numbers in the grandstands. Hats off to Jake Poppe of Poppe Livestock in Montana (formerly from Colorado) for winning Top Hand and Sage Haythorn from the legendary Haythorn Land & Cattle Company in Nebraska for taking Top Horse on his Quarterhorse, Lamar.

When Poppe was asked why he loves this particular rodeo and is willing to go the distance to compete, he answered, “The rodeo’s got a reputation for being well-produced, paying well and always draws good players.” (For those who might not be aware, Jake’s team won the rodeo in 2014 and his good ranch mare won Top Horse honors in 2014.)

It’s been a strong run for him and he’ll more than likely be back. Even the teams who don’t make the Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo finals usually stick around for the rest of the rodeo to cheer on those who qualified and see what they can learn to make next year’s go even better. Those who have to travel a far distance might head home early, but with regret. So consider South Dakota, cowboys.

When General Manager Jeffries was asked what advice he might give to anyone thinking of entering, he replied, “If you think you’re tough enough, come on up!”

Your Dream Shop


From planning to reality – plus some great tips from our WR Facebook friends

By: Jennifer Showalter

There is a lot to think about when building a shop, but there is even more to study when deciding which tools and gadgets to purchase. WR wanted to highlight a few things for ranchers to keep in mind as they sit down to design their dream shop. This is what we pulled together.


Typically, bigger is better in this case (considering budget, of course). With all of the different tools and parts used on a ranch, it doesn’t take long for a shop to become cluttered. To conserve floor space, ranchers may want to consider storing parts in a loft as long as it does not interfere with overhead clearance. Along those same lines, ranchers need to be aware that roll-up doors often take up overhead space inside a building and may interfere with taller equipment. It is wise to build a shop with the idea that it may be used to service wider and taller equipment in the future. As one FB friend wisely suggested, “Design it big enough to handle your equipment, then make it bigger”.


Safety needs to be kept in mind when designing a shop. Sparks and slag off of grinders and welders along with all of the flammable fuels and oils typically found in a shop increase the need for fire safety to be taken into account. It is important to have a licensed electrician properly wire the building to carry the heavy load of such things as welders and compressors (EDITOR: cowboy wiring is forbidden, guys, stick to punching cows).

Ventilation is also important for a safe work environment and to prevent condensation. When building a shop, such things as welding, painting and grinding will require enough fans and blowers to pull or push fumes and dust out of the building. In addition, make sure first aid kits, eye wash kits, and fire extinguishers are positioned so they are easily accessible.


From wrenches, to sockets, to punches, to screwdrivers, to grease guns, the list of hand held tools in a shop is near about endless. When you add in all of the power tools the list is even longer. Without some form of organization amongst all the tools and parts, a shop will become a wreck in no time.

Adjustable stationary work benches, tool boxes, peg boards, storage bins, shelves, and cabinets are a few things available to help with this issue. Study all the options and utilize what you feel will provide the easiest way for you to keep things in order.


A cement floor in today’s progressive ranch shops is pretty much mandatory. It is a good idea to include drains with adequate screens so the floors can be easily washed down. When pouring a floor, some ranchers may want to look into actually digging and framing up a pit so they can easily work on the underside of equipment without the need of a lift or hoist.

Good lighting is a must in a shop. Acquiring natural light through windows, doors, and skylights is an option, but these features don’t do much good when you are trying to get something fixed at night.

“High pressure sodium and metal halide lights are efficient choices if the lights will be used for long periods of time,” says Bryan Moore with Morton Buildings. “Fluorescent and incandescent lighting are more conducive to low light usage.”

In most cases it pays to install more lighting and electrical plugs than you ever think you will need on both the inside and the outside of the shop. Temperature control is another issue that must be considered. Properly insulated shops are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer compared to non-insulated buildings.

“Most farm shops are insulated. To reduce heat loss through doors and windows, most customers choose insulated overhead, bifold and hydraulic doors with weather seals,” says Moore. For those looking for more climate control, heaters, fans, and AC units designed specifically for outbuildings are an option. An outdoor wood furnace may be a good fit for ranchers who have plenty of access to wood.

These units also heat the water which can be an added benefit. Heated floors may be expensive, but they sure do a good job of making the building comfortable to work in. Ranchers may want to consider building a wash rack outside a little ways from their shop to spray off their equipment before bringing it in to be worked on or serviced. An air compressor stationed outside away from the shop doors is also a good way to blow off dirt and chaff without getting the equipment wet and helps to keep the shop cleaner.

If large amounts of used oil and other mechanical fluids will be collected in the shop, ranchers should look into incorporating some form of waste storage tank into the design and layout of their building. This will allow ranchers to collect the waste so it can properly be disposed of.

Despite efforts to keep things clean, it is impossible to avoid grease, oil, and dirt in a shop. A sink and shower can certainly come in handy. Some may want to go as far as putting in a full restroom and a washing machine designated for work clothes and grease rags.


When building and stocking your dream shop the following are a few companies and products WR suggests you check out:


Morton Buildings’ post-frame buildings are highly-engineered, strong, wood-framed structures that make ideal shops for ranchers. From the foundation to the fasteners, every component in a Morton building has been engineered to work together to provide great building strength.

Morton Buildings utilizes clear-span construction which allows the interior of the building to be wide open with endless layout possibilities. Morton offers a wide variety of building styles and features including doors, windows, and paint colors. A local Morton Buildings sales consultant is the primary source of contact for the customer from concept to completion.

When a plumber, electrician, heating/cooling professional or other subcontractor is needed, Morton hires them and oversees their work on the customer’s behalf. Visit their site at


If you need to get under something, this Roughneck™ Manual Chain Hoist from Northern Tool + Equipment’s® is ideal for the job as it is compact enough to stow away when not in use but powerful enough to lift 2 tons to a height of 10 feet. It is an ideal choice for pulling engines, moving heavy equipment, effortlessly loading tanks and pumps, lifting ATVs onto pickups, and a variety of other tasks.

The Roughneck™ manual chain hoist features steel-cast housing and Grade 80 chain. The black finish lift chain is rust resistant and durable, while the zincplated pull chain also resists rust. The different colors of these two chains make identification easy.

An automatic double pawl braking systems secures loads at any height. The swivel hooks are assembled with high-strength locking features and an enclosed gear housing making this hoist suitable for outdoor use. The Roughneck™ manual chain hoist is tested at 150% load capacity to ensure it can withstand the rigors it is put through. Go to for more info.


Need to slice through some steel? Hobart’s AirForce™ 250ci Plasma Cutter uses an electrical arc and compressed air to cut steel, aluminum, and other conductive metals. A builtin air compressor and lightweight inverter power supply makes this plasma cutter one of the most convenient, totally portable cutting systems available.

Weighing only 27 pounds, the AirForce™ 250ci Plasma cutter is easy to handle. The AirForce™ 250ci excels at cutting sheet metal and 1/8” mild steel. It can even sever ¼” steel. Head over to for more on these units. TWECO® Check out this combo welder from Tweco®. The Fabricator® 252i MIGStick-TIG welder is a 3-in-1 welder that welds metal up to ½” thick in a single pass.

This unit enables users to choose the best process for the project they are working on. Its MIG and gas-shielded flux cored outputs provide maximum productivity in the shop. The stick and self-shielded flux cored process work great in windy and outdoor conditions, as well as on rusty or dirty metal. The DC TIG process enables users to weld stainless, copper, nickel, bronze, brass, alloys, or on applications requiring precise control over heat input and weld bead placement.

The Fabricator 252i features power factor correction (PFC), which lowers the unit’s primary current draw and enables it to provide full output on a 50-amp circuit. The Fabricator 252i tolerates voltage fluctuations from 187 to 276 VAC, which makes it especially suited for running off any generator (including PTO-driven units) that supplies at least 8.2 kVA (6.6 kW) of power.


Harbor Freight Tools stocks over 7,000 items in categories including automotive, air and power tools, shop equipment, welding and hand tools. Their Central Machinery® line provides a lot of useful items for a ranch shop. To name a few, Central Machinery’s 17” Floor Mount Drill Press is an all-purpose drill press that is ideal for ranch needs. A heavy duty ball bearing motor with 16 speeds makes drilling a wide variety of materials possible.

This floor drill press comes with an adjustable depth stop and gauge, an oiler with a flex-tube, and a lamp. Central Machinery offers an 8” Bench Grinder that has a rugged capacitor start motor, builds up to speed instantly, and provides plenty of power to avoid stalling while grinding. Steel seated ball bearings support the motor shaft for long wear. T

his bench grinder comes equipped with medium and coarse grinding wheels, large adjustable eye shield, spark deflectors, adjustable tool rests, and a flexible gooseneck lamp for optimal visibility. Central Machinery also manufactures a 20 Gallon Parts Washer. With a high flow, recirculating pump, this washer provides, a safe, convenient station for cleaning small parts and tools.

The pump circulates solvent at 5-1/4 GPM, while the heat-resistant lid closes automatically in case of fire. The washer is constructed of heavy duty welded steel and includes a heavy duty steel stand with storage shelf. The washer itself has a removable parts shelf and parts basket. Hit ‘em up at


Known for industry-changing innovation, PORTER-CABLE introduced the world’s first helical drive circular saw, portable band saw, and portable belt sander. PORTER-CABLE’s 7.5 Amp 1/2” impact wrench (PCE210) delivers 240 ftlbs of max torque for heavy-duty applications, as well as up to 2,700 impactsper-minute, and up to 2,200 revolutions-per-minute.

A forward/reverse rocker trigger switch proves an easy transition between fastening and loosening applications. Cast metal gear housing helps dissipate heat buildup for added durability during heavy-duty application. This impact wrench comes with a hog ring anvil to allow for fast and easy accessory changes. At only 7 pounds, this tool is lightweight and compact making it user friendly.

PORTER-CABLE’s 15 Amp 7-1/4” Heavy Duty Circular Saw (PC15TCS) has a motor that delivers power and torque through the toughest application. This lightweight saw only weighs 11.3 pounds which minimizes handler fatigue. A 45 degree bevel capacity creates range of application. A stamped steel shoe with optimum line of sight provides accurate cuts and durable construction.

A spindle lock feature allows for single wrench bit changes, and the kerf cut indicator aligns the blade to the indicator for accurate line cuts. As far as cordless tools go, ranchers might find PORTER-CABLE’s Reciprocating Tiger Saw™ – PCC670B, 6-1/2” Circular Saw – PCC660B, Oscillating Tool – PCC710B, Cut-OFF Tool/Grinder – PCC761B, Jigsaw – PCC650B, and the Pivoting Flashlight – PCC700B to be of interest. The whole enchilada is at

NCBA Trade Show Fun


By: Tim O’Byrne

Here’s me with Christine (center) and Annie Allen, our ad rep from Montana, at our booth at the NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio, TX in February. Had a great time, and it was so fun to catch up with everybody.

Thanks for stopping by. Oh, the winner of the custom pair of Olathe boots was Julie Dooling who’s from Montana, too, which might make it look like the contest was rigged from the start, bein’s as Annie knew her and everything.

And if you go to our website to watch the draw on You Tube, you’ll notice that the name of the kid we picked off the floor to make the draw didn’t correspond to his actual name tag, in fact, it wasn’t even close. The name tag said Peggy or Betty or something. This is starting to smell fishy… ANNIE!

Something Special

And now, something special from guest columnist Christine O’Byrne, managing editor of Working Ranch Junior: I am normally manning our WR booth during the NCBA Trade show, and I love seeing everyone who stops by, but I always take some time to get around and see some folks who are busy at their own booth.

ncba-2My first stop is usually The Happy Toy Maker because it’s like a visit with Santa. This year when I stopped in to see him, we had our usual howdies and talked for a bit before he began to tell me about a particular fan of his toys. A young boy who was fighting cancer would go to The Happy Toy Maker website and watch the videos featuring the rugged ranch toys while he was getting his treatments.

The Happy Toy Maker got word of this, and sent one of his toys to the boy. Well, at this point in the story, I got a big lump in my throat and I felt my eyes start to well up. Then he goes on to tell me about taking a little side trip to stop and see the boy. I choked through that lump in my throat and said “Oh, I bet he was sure excited to see you! You are like a real live Santa!” I gave him a hug, said “Bless you, thank you.” and went on my way, grateful for people like The Happy Toy Maker.

Special National Update

political rancher jan. 2015

edited by Tim O’Byrne

Editor: Every December we invite the three national beef cattle associations to enlighten us on their adventures of the past year, and expound on their vision for the year to come. Without further ado, I turn the apple box over to our esteemed colleagues, but not before first thanking them for their selfless dedication to protecting the sustainability of the industry and lifestyle we love so dearly.


The United States Cattlemen’s Association has wrapped up yet another successful year representing U.S. cattle
producers from across the country. Whether it be in the courtroom, the halls of Congress or at the table serving
as a voice for producers within industry- wide discussions, USCA is now, more than ever, the voice of the U.S.
cattle producer.

As we head into 2015, the issues of focus for USCA and the industry will remain Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Beef Checkoff reform. You will also see us addressing EPA overreach and additional concerns as they arise. USCA will remain the leader in representing the U.S. cattle producer. During the recent annual meeting, USCA members elected a new President to lead USCA into 2015 and to continue on the path blazed by former President Jon Wooster. Danni Beer (Keldron, SD) will serve as the new USCA president and in her role will represent the organization in upcoming industry discussions.

2014 has seen a number of victories on the COOL front. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled twice now in the span of 12 months in favor of U.S. cattle producers in the suit brought against the rule and the USDA by a group of packer-processor based groups including National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the American Meat Institute (AMI), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), North American Meat Association (NAMA), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations, Southwest Meat Association and the American Association of Meat Processors. USCA, with the support of producers like WR readers has continued to lead the defense of COOL in this arena. With multiple victories now under our belt on this issue, USCA is confident that the rulings passed down have served to reaffirm
the legitimacy and constitutionality of the current law.

The most recent decision handed down by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on this issue has served to
further USCA’s stance that COOL is a program vital to our industry and the producers it represents. USCA will work
with the Administration in addressing the ruling to ensure that COOL remains the law of the land.

Checkoff reform has been elusive and frustrating in 2014. Finally, this past September, Secretary Tom Vilsack stepped in and provided an opportunity to not only increase funds for the promotion, education, and research of beef products, but to also write a new order for a new beef Checkoff under the Commodity Promotion Act of 1996. The
Secretary’s idea would not disturb the controversial beef Checkoff, written under the 1985 Beef Promotion Act.
Producers will have the opportunity to help develop a new beef Checkoff that better fits today’s marketing environment, increases efficiencies, and gives producers more control of the program by allowing for periodic referendums instead of relying upon an act of Congress to make changes to the program.

While some issues have proved divisive within our industry, there were also issues which brought consensus.
USCA and other agriculture groups were able to work as a collective group representing all of those within the
agricultural industry. 2014 saw the exaggerated use of government agency overreach by the EPA in the proposed
changes to the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The agricultural industry came out in opposition to the rule,
and USCA and a broad coalition of stakeholders submitted extensive comments against the rule representing the beliefs of those ranchers and farmers whose private land and operations would be unduly impacted by the rule.
In 2015 USCA will continue to look for opportunities to make the voice of the US cattle producer heard.

As USCA looks to expand on issues impacting our industry in 2015, it will continue to provide producers with
an effective voice in DC. USCA, as a bipartisan association, will continue to work with Members of Congress on
both sides of the aisle during the new session and in doing so will be able to seamlessly work on those issues affecting
you—the producer. USCA has led on issues important to you in the past and we will continue to do so in the
year ahead. Your voice is being represented by USCA, the question now is—-are you a member of the one group representing those issues most concerning YOU as a producer and your bottom line? Go to to learn more about joining the association looking out for ranchers from California to Texas to the Dakotas and Virginia and everywhere in between.


Four years ago industry pundits downplayed our disrupted cattle cycle. They claimed the five million cows already liquidated were unwanted because better genetics were producing bigger carcasses. Soon, however, those same pundits began panicking over a severe cattle shortage.

By 2014 cattle supplies were tighter than ever, driving cattle and beef prices to new highs, even though beef demand hovered around 2007 levels. Pundits quickly claimed that widespread droughts caused the unprecedented herd decline.

But, the national herd began shrinking in 1996 and the U.S. was not drought-stricken for all those 18 years. So, what caused our shrinking industry?

Another livestock sector provides insight: Hog prices hit near records from 1995-1997, but nose-dived in 1998 to the lowest levels in the 20th century. Iowa State University reported operating losses of $73,857 for the average hog farm.

Experts said a 10% production increase and record Canadian live hog imports helped drive the 1998 collapse.
Hog producers exited the industry in droves. What remained is a meatpacker-controlled, vertically integrated

Achieving vertical integration is a process we call “chickenization.” It is achieved by reducing competitive markets and industry participants. The cattle industry is the last to be chickenized, but the process is underway.

In 2014 R-CALF USA championed competition, defended pro-competitive policies and property rights, and
blocked chickenization efforts in the cattle industry by:

• Forcing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to admit it did not know if Beef Checkoff Program dollars were being spent in accordance with the law, thus triggering needed reform efforts.

• Intervening in the lawsuit filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and its Canadian and Mexican counterparts against our pro-competitive country of origin labeling (COOL) law, thus preserving COOL.

• Submitting comments and building a coalition to oppose USDA’s efforts to import fresh meat and livestock from Brazil and Argentina, which are affected by foot-and-mouth disease.

• Lobbying Congress to rescind legislative language that insulates meatpackers from the producer protections
in the Packers and Stockyards Act.

• Supporting the lawsuit to help a packing plant resume horse slaughter in the United States.

• Blocking efforts to repeal COOL and weaken enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act in the 2014 Farm Bill.

• Blocking an effort by multinational corporations to suspend our “Buy American” laws.

• Making presentations to cattlemen’s associations and the American Bar Association to explain the impacts of lax antitrust enforcement and illconceived free trade agreements.

• Urging the U.S. Air Force to change its plans to increase low-level military flights over prime ranching areas in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

• Submitting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in opposition to its proposed rule, Waters of the United States. In 2015 we will continue to: 1) give ranchers the tools they need to compete in today’s global marketplace; 2) take from multinational meatpackers the tools they are using to chickenize the cattle industry; and, 3) reform trade policies to reflect the need to generate net exports, not trade at any cost.

Check us out and join with us at


While 2014 turned out to be a strong rebuilding year for much of the cattle industry, we saw a number of our policy priorities stalled due largely to the build up to the election and the regulatory zeal of this administration.

On the regulatory front, much of this year was spent combating EPA over their “waters of the United States” proposed rule and urging our membership, and landowners nationwide, to submit comments. This is not only a mammoth land grab by the agencies but an immense increase in their administrative authority. With a new Congress seated, we will look for revived and bi-partisan interest in legislation to address the concerns of landowners.

We have again had a great year for trade, with strong beef demand, as we are poised to top last year’s record
export value. Our largest trading partners for U.S. beef remain Japan, Mexico and Canada with exports adding in excess of $300 per head in value for U.S. cattle producers. Unfortunately, despite strong support and continued adherence to tariff elimination by our trade negotiators, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has seen very limited movement.

We have spent much of this year reviewing and working on comments for two proposed rules to allow the
importation of fresh and frozen beef from Brazil and Argentina. With a long history of Foot and Mouth Disease in
these areas, it is vital that we carefully review these rules. No trade is worth sacrificing the health of our herd, and we
do not believe APHIS has adequately assessed these risks, or that Argentina or Brazil have shown the ability or commitment to adhere to our standards.

As expected, the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico that the amended U.S. COOL rule violates our international trade obligations and discriminates against Canadian and Mexican livestock. This brings our economy one step closer to retaliatory tariffs and we continue to call on Congress to fix COOL before we further damage these trading relationships.

We continue to urge Congress to pass key tax extenders and give producers and small businesses certainty in the current tax year. And we will continue to work this next year, to encourage Secretary Vilsack and the Administration, not to move forward with their plans for a duplicate beef checkoff, which would give the Administration unprecedented control over beef promotion, research and education, and jeopardize the work of the current Beef Checkoff Program.

In this next year, we look forward to working with the new Congress to ensure our policy goals remain a priority.

The Sensitive Sage

pasture man. jan.

by Loretta Sorensen

Tough and hardy, this iconic western rangeplant plays an important sustainable role

Declining sage grouse populations have concerned sportsmen since the 1930s. In spite of management efforts, sage
grouse populations have continued to decline since that time. But that reality doesn’t lessen the importance of managing sage grouse and the sagebrush they’re so dependent on today. That’s why the Society for Range Management (SRM) spent much of this past year examining sage grouse and sagebrush issues. The SRM mission is to provide “leadership for the Stewardship of Rangelands based on sound ecological principles.”

“Because we serve as a primary training and education source for the grassland industry, we made these issues a major focus in 2014,” explains Jenny Pluhar, President, Society for Range Management. “We see potential for reducing the negative impact on rangeland and aiding ranchers in improving forage quality.” SRM’s efforts in 2014 have brought awareness to a number of sage grouse concerns, including the studies that indicate significant overlap between increasing free-roaming horse and burro populations and reduced sage grouse numbers in several western
states (i.e. Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah). In addition to defining sage grouse problems over the past year, SRM has participated in discussions between managers and ranchers to identify potential solutions and direct
benefits related to sage grouse and habitat conservation.

Sagebrush dominates much of western North America, with approximately 165 million acres of potential habitat. In spite of its prevalence, sagebrush is considered a fragile ecosystem under siege from a combination of forces (i.e. invasive species, altered fire regimes, urbanization, etc.). Estimates of habitat loss vary widely depending on region, but since European settlement, at least half the area once covered by sagebrush has been eliminated.

Sagebrush grows where there is limited rain, harsh winters and trees that are restricted to streams or protected mountain slopes. Sagebrush provides important habitat for a diversity of wildlife species and domestic animals. It provides rangeland resources for cattle and sheep in areas where they coexist with other wildlife species including greater sage grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, common nighthawk, and pygmy rabbits. Large mammals such as mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, moose, black bear, pronghorn, mountain lions, coyotes and gray wolves also share the broad expanse of sagebrush steppe with human inhabitants.

U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management studies have documented the dependence of sage grouse on sagebrush for nesting, brood-rearing and winter habitat. In “Guidelines to Manage Sage Grouse Populations and their Habitat,” a U.S. Geological Survey publication released in 2000, it was noted that declining sage grouse populations are correlated with a reduction in sagebrush quantity and quality over the past 50 years. Authors of the report noted that degradation of sagebrush has led to sage grouse population declines as low as 47% of historic sage grouse population counts.

It was in 1977 that Braun et al. published guidelines for sage grouse habitats that addressed topics such as seasonal
use of sagebrush habitats, effects of insecticides on sage grouse, importance of herbaceous cover in breeding habitat and the effects of fire on sagebrush habitat. As scientific knowledge of the birds has expanded over the years, that original document has been updated to reflect new findings about the birds and their habitat.

“The most recent advance in sage grouse protection has come in the form of the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI),” Pluhar continues. “Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched SGI in 2010, utilizing the Farm Bill as a vehicle to target lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest. This has brought focus to sage grouse populations on 78 million acres across 11 western states.”

SGI is a partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and businesses working cooperatively to prevent the need for listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, which could potentially happen in 2015.

In studying the sage grouse issues, SGI has found that sage grouse, once numbering some 16 million prior to European settlement, have dwindled to as few as 200,000 birds.

“One of SGI’s primary activities has been promotion of removal of trees such as the Pinion Juniper (PJ) in areas where the trees have taken over rangeland,” Pluhar shares. “Many of those areas are places where sagebrush once thrived. The action was prompted by a study (Baruch-Mordo et al. 2013) that identified the influence of tree cover on lekking and brood-rearing habitat (lek – an area in which male animals congregate to engage in competitive displays in the hopes of gaining a female’s attention) . They found that PJ cover as low as 4% near a lek can cause birds to abandon the lekking area.

“SGI science has shown that, in Oregon alone, some 875,000 acres of trees are within three miles of leks,” Pluhar adds. “Removing trees in those lek areas greatly increases the possibility that sage grouse will return to breed and nest there.”

Over the past three years, in Oregon’s Warner Mountains, SGI and the BLM have partnered to remove nearly 50,000 acres of juniper. This tree removal has tripled the possibility for maintaining grouse populations in core habitats.

Because tree removal has additional benefits such as the return of natural springs and other wildlife species, Oregon ranchers and conservation groups have supported SGI activities.

“Tree removal is good for wildlife and productive rangeland,” Pluhar states. “Fires once kept these junipers from expanding into grasslands. However, over the past 150 years, the trees have taken over areas formerly dominated by sagebrush, grasses and forbs. Trees require a lot of water, resulting in decreased forage and loss of springs.”

SGI has also worked with ranchers to establish conservation easements, which provide sage grouse with wide open, undisturbed habitat. Strategic grazing plans are also proving to benefit the grouse. Rotating livestock to different
pastures while resting others, changing seasons of use within pastures to give plants opportunity to reproduce,
and managing frequency and intensity of grazing are all ways to support a healthy rangeland environment.

SGI researchers have also found that marking fences on rangeland to aid grouse in avoiding contact with them while in flight has significantly reduced bird loss numbers. In flat terrain, grouse are especially likely to fly into fences rather than over them. University of Idaho researcher, Bryan Stevens, developed white vinyl fence markers that snap onto the top strand of wire to make fences more visible.

Managing exotic weeds and grasses – especially cheatgrass – to help reduce fire hazards also aids grouse  populations. Maintaining and supporting healthy riparian areas gives sage grouse the summer resources needed to raise hatchlings.


So how do wild horses and burros fit into the sage grouse preservation story? Recent scientific research supported  by the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition has shown an overlap between areas where sage grouse are declining and wild horse and burro populations have exceeded the Appropriate Management Level (AML) set by the BLM.

Formed in 2012, the Coalition is a diverse partnership of 13 wildlife conservation and sportsmen organizations,
industry partners and professional natural-resource scientific societies. Their purpose is to identify solutions to management of free-roaming horse and burro populations.

According to 2014 Coalition documents, the number of animals in holding facilities grew from approximately
10,000 in 2001 to nearly 49,000 in 2014. Numbers on the range have increased to upwards of 40,000 in that same time period, surpassing the AML by about 13,000.

Pluhar has been actively engaged in discussions of the topic initiated by the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. Talks have involved SRM, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, BLM, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the Chief of the Forest Service. Pluhar says SRM hopes to “bring science and fact-based research to the forefront of the discussion… as a vehicle for substantial change.”

“The Society believes in the practice and enhancement of multiple use values of rangelands, while maintaining basic soil, water and vegetation resources,” Pluhar concludes.

Fantastic at the Finals


by Corinne J. Brown / Photos by Tanna White

Classy cowgirls from the WRAA ramp up the competition

Not every woman dreams of getting away from it all by driving hundreds of miles in a horse trailer to rope calves with three of her best friends. But not every woman can. Female ranch rodeo contestants have something extra that makes them want to compete and win at being top-notch cowgirls. After all, who do you know that sits down late at night to fill out her team’s entry forms and map a road trip to the Finals, long after the stock’s been fed, the laundry’s folded, and the last bedtime story has lulled a little one to sleep? If this gal is in your house, she may be a member of the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association, and darn proud of it.

Founded officially as an organization in Kansas back in 2005, the WRRA has made ranch rodeo history. What might have started as a dare or a dream is a now a successful, proven reality with 150 team members and 25 individuals, reminding the rest of us that cowgirls have always been able to handle ranching challenges just as well as men.

“We appreciate what ranch rodeo represents,” explains Billie Franks, one of the founding members. “It’s our life. We’re doing what we love. I know I can speak for all my team members, including Jenna Adams from Schilder, Oklahoma; Neesa Smith from Hydro, Oklahoma, and Kelsey Mosby from Rising Star, Texas.”

That love has spread like wildfire across the western states and the Midwest. WRRA members now hail from as far north as Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming and south to Oklahoma and Texas. A total of 18 teams with evocative names like “Too Hard to Handle”, “Cowgirl Swank”, and “4 Branded Chicks” (to name a few) competed in their recent 10th Annual WRRA World Finals, held for the first time this past fall, October 17-18 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Loveland, Colorado. A Calcutta, three full rounds, and a Saturday morning stray gathering gave viewers more than their money’s worth. Billie Frank’s seasoned team proudly won the Finals for the second year in a row!

Holding the competition in a venue farther west gave some contestants and audience members a more geographically central location.and audience members a more geographically central location. “The move got us a few new sponsors,” says Frank, “in addition to an almost soldout arena— over 200 ticket holders. Special thanks goes to the Colorado State University’s rodeo team as well, who were the set-up and ground crew.

“Our sponsors are like family,” adds Franks. “We couldn’t exist without them.” A very special debt is owed to nutritional consultant Dr. Harry Anderson, a former Kansas resident, for his longtime encouragement and support.

“The move got us a few new sponsors,” says Frank, “in addition to an almost sold out arena— over 200 ticket holders. Special thanks goes to the Colorado State University’s rodeo team as well, who were the set-up and ground crew. “Our sponsors are like family,” adds Franks. “We couldn’t exist without them.” A very special debt is owed to nutritional consultant Dr. Harry Anderson, a former Kansas resident, for his longtime encouragement and support.

“I’ve known Billie Franks ever since the beginning of the organization,” Anderson recalls. “I went to watch a women’s ranch rodeo in Oklahoma years ago and was completely enamored with what I saw there— women tackling the same events as cowboys. I couldn’t believe how good they were. More than fun to watch, the event was truly impressive. I know this much— I wouldn’t want to arm wrestle with any of them!”

If you’re not familiar with the WRRA, memberships are open with no minimum age limit. The oldest competitor at present is 51. Not every member is a ranch gal; some are weekend cowgirls with great skills who appreciate cowboy
life all the more. Each state’s members vote for a state representative and an elected board of eight women rule for a
one-year term. Meetings are held monthly via conference call.

As far as rodeos go, the rules are easy: gals do everything regular ranch rodeo cowboys do except ride broncs and milk wild cows. Otherwise, the teams compete at sorting, doctoring, mugging and trailer loading. And a big plus— entry fees for most rodeos has 100% payback for winners.

When asked what size steers the gals are roping, and how, Franks explains, “We work with whatever’s
available. In the stray gathering/mugging event, (everyone’s favorite) our girls can either head ‘em or heel ‘em;
no accounting for style. Even though women are less muscular on top than men, even our lighter gals have a way of getting those steers down. In fact we often wonder why cowboys don’t try it our way.” (With all due respect,
this particular technique remains like the secret ingredient in a family recipe; unrevealed. You have to come see it for yourself.)

“Each team has to know its strengths,” she continues. “Some teams have real stout girls for example;
some don’t. We still get the job done.” Many teams seem to strategize more, one possible advantage, and
some just use female intuition.

If anything has been common to the association’s growth, it’s the many roles a woman has to fill. The teams add and lose competitors based on who is pregnant that year. Nonetheless, all the members are committed, whether they’re competing or not. Working around recitals, soccer practice, even home schooling—they make time for their passion.
If they have to head out, they know they can leave the table set, with supper simmering on the stove.

Some WR readers might also have seen WRRA members competing at the Western States Ranch Rodeo finals in Winnemucca, Nevada, another opportunity held even farther west for these amazing cowgirls to show what they’re made of. But no matter where they ride, they stick together, passing the ranch rodeo torch on to willing daughters and sisters who love the sport as much they do.