Hello sagebrush birds!

Sage thrashers, included in the new Thunder Basin Ecology factsheet, incorporate dozens of unique sound fragments into their songs.

A new factsheet on three Thunder Basin bird species gives a quick introduction to inhabitants of the wide-open, wildlife-rich landscapes where the Great Plains meet the sagebrush steppe.

Free from University of Wyoming Extension, Birds of Thunder Basin: Sagebrush Specialists is available at bit.ly/UWEpubs.

The ecology factsheet describes the sage thrasher, Brewer’s sparrow and greater sage-grouse and includes a brief overview of breeding, nesting, migration, and conservation status. Quick ID tips, fun facts and definitions of birding terms round out the introductions.

“Sage thrashers are superb singers,” writes Courtney Duchardt of this sagebrush specialist. “Thrashers are classified as mimids. They incorporate snippets of surrounding noises into their songs, possibly to show potential mates they are familiar with the area and will make good partners.”

Duchardt, a University of Wyoming graduate student in ecology and ecosystem science and management, has spent more than 235 days (and nights) in Thunder Basin camping, photographing and conducting research.

Birds of Thunder Basin: Sagebrush Specialists is the second in a series from University of Wyoming Extension in partnership with the Thunder Basin Research Initiative, area ranchers and energy companies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service and the Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association.

The factsheet is one of more than 600 guides from UW Extension (see bit.ly/UWEpubs) that help extend skills in cooking, canning, calving, conservation and community change, plus gardening, grazing, cropping, habitat restoration and more. YouTube video series from UW Extension include From the Ground Up, Barnyards and Backyards and Exploring the Nature of Wyoming.

Hatch brings Thomas Jefferson’s revolutionary gardens to Laramie

Peter Hatch, retired director of gardens and grounds at Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson’s 57 years of gardening notes, dated 1767 to 1824, guided a modern restoration of his two-acre kitchen garden led by Peter Hatch, director of gardens and grounds at Monticello, now retired.

The 1,000-foot-long garden has been called a living expression of Jefferson’s genius and distinctly American attitudes. Hatch will give a free public presentation, “Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Gardens,” in Laramie, October 12. The talk is 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Berry Center on the University of Wyoming campus.

Hatch will discuss the history of horticulture from the perspective of the famous scientist and president and discuss some of Jefferson’s hundreds of vegetable varieties, his foundational seed-saving techniques, and the experimentation of his later years.

Copies of Hatch’s book, A Rich Spot of Earth, will be available for signing.

The event is sponsored by the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Department of Plant Sciences, and ACRES Student Farm.

For more information, contact Anne Leonard, UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources coordinator of college affairs, at (307) 766-4134 or aleonard@uwyo.edu.

UW Economists offer strategy for cattle producers facing brucellosis risk

For producers considering a switch to stockers, there has been little guidance on how to transition the operation.

Imagine this: Your cattle contract brucellosis from infected elk. The cows abort their calves. When the federal government quarantines the herd of 400 for a year, you face costs up to $143,000. Not only are your profits from the cow-calf-yearling operation wiped out, your neighbor’s are too, as all potentially affected animals are quarantined until infected animals are identified and culled.

This threat brought cattle producers to the table with a team of University of Wyoming agricultural economists and other experts in 2013 in Worland, Wyoming. The researchers were asked to investigate the economics associated with different types of cattle operations and their ultimate profitability for producers in the region.

The result is “Economics of Transitioning from a Cow-Calf-Yearling Operation to a Stocker Operation as a Potential Strategy to Address Brucellosis Risk in Northwestern Wyoming.” The new publication is available as a free download from UW Extension at http://bit.ly/stockeroperation.

The risk of contracting the disease is greatest in the Greater Yellowstone Area of northwestern Wyoming where brucellosis is endemic in wild elk and bison populations. The switch to stockers eliminates this risk completely, says Christopher Bastian, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and one of the publication’s authors.

Intact breeding females are replaced with stocker cattle. Stockers are males or females purchased in spring, fed and maintained until they reach a target weight, then sold. Steers and spayed heifers in a stocker operation cannot spread the disease to other animals.

The authors acknowledge the decision to switch doesn’t come easy. Analyses indicate the cow-calf-yearling operation is generally more profitable than the stocker operation. Brucellosis is the kicker.

“If you think you are at high risk of contracting brucellosis, it would only take one quarantine to negate the advantage of staying in a cow-calf-yearling operation rather than transitioning to stockers,” says Bastian.

This publication offers a starting point for producers in the Greater Yellowstone Area looking at alternative management strategies.

“No analyses to our knowledge have investigated the transition itself,” the authors explain. “Thus, for producers considering a switch to stockers, there has been little guidance on the economics of how best to transition to such an enterprise.”

Authors Shane Ruff, farm management specialist for the Kansas Farm Management Association and former graduate research assistant at UW; Bastian; Dannele Peck, director of the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub and adjunct associate professor, UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; and Walt E. Cook, assistant professor, Department of Veterinary Sciences, Texas A&M University offer comprehensive analyses for one-year and eight-year transitions, as well as remaining a cow-calf-yearling operation.

Here are some of their conclusions:

  • More total income could be available from the cow-calf-yearling operation if a producer is staying in the cattle business more than 20 years.
  • More total income could be available from the eight-year transition if a producer is staying in the cattle business 20 years or less.
  • A producer must consider the risks of infection versus profitability and income variability.
  • The switch to stockers (other than getting out of the cattle business altogether) is the only 100-percent effective strategy to avoid the costs associated with quarantine.

The guide is one of many free publications available at  bit.ly/UWEpubs, covering brucellosis, ranch budgets, finances and profitability and cattle markets and economics.

For more information, contact Bastian at (307) 766-4377 or bastian@uwyo.edu.

New guide provides tools for ranchers, others in sage-grouse country

Young sage-grouse congregate along an irrigation ditch in a freshly cut hay field. Photo: Leanne Correll

According to its authors, Landowner Guide to Sage-grouse Conservation in Wyoming: A Practical Guide for Land Owners and Managers is meant to enhance understanding and conservation of sage-grouse in Wyoming.

The new guide, which provides tools and resources, is available as a free download from University of Wyoming Extension at bit.ly/UWEpubs.

“It condenses scientific findings into a practical format that is easy to use and understand,” said Derek Scasta, a UW Extension range specialist and co-author.

In 70 compact pages, the guide covers basic sage-grouse biology, life stages, habitat needs, predator impacts, conservation planning and sagebrush monitoring.

More than 40 original Wyoming photographs and seven state-level maps illustrate the lives of these birds that coexist with cattle, other livestock and approximately 350 vertebrate wildlife species, including songbirds and small mammals.

Full-color photos show males in fall mating displays, the sagebrush shape that provides winter cover for nesting females, and the broadleaf flowering plants (forbs)  and insects that provide protein-rich food for chicks in spring. A wire mesh escape ramp in a livestock tank is presented as a simple alteration to reduce sage-grouse drowning.

“Sagebrush ecosystems are complex, and efforts to conserve sage-grouse are multifaceted,” said lead author and photographer Leanne Correll.

Correll heads an agriculture and natural resources consulting business in Saratoga and earned a master’s degree in rangeland ecology and watershed management from UW in 2017.

Wyoming is a sage-grouse stronghold, encompassing almost a quarter of the range-wide habitat and 37 percent of known male populations – more than any other state.

“Those who own or manage sage-grouse habitat play a critical role in conserving this umbrella species in Wyoming and the West,” said Correll. “They were the catalyst for developing this guide.”

Landowner Guide to Sage-grouse Conservation in Wyoming co-authors with Correll are Rebecca Burton and University of Wyoming professors Scasta and Jeffrey Beck.

Contributing support and expertise were local ranchers and conservation experts, other UW faculty members, and representatives of county, state, and federal agencies, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The guide is one of many free publications available at  bit.ly/UWEpubs, covering sage-grouse, sagebrush, grasslands, grazing, conservation, and ranch economics.

For more information, contact Scasta at (307) 766-2337 or jscasta@uwyo.edu.

Why are these teens all smiles?

Gavin Simmons, Ian Siegusmund, Morgan Sanchez, Lukas Simmons, Mishelle Frame, and Torree Spatig of Uinta County are among the first enrolled in ANSC 1009. The UW course is open to all Wyoming 4-H’ers in high school.

They’re honing their animal production skills (and earning college credit) in a new University of Wyoming course, Introduction to Animal Science (ANSC 1009), which connects high school students with UW via field experiences, extension workshops, online content, and Zoom conference calls with animal science professors. To read more and learn ways UW Extension connects with Wyoming, see CONNECT 2017.