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Animal Health

Counting Costs: UW undertakes economic analysis of brucellosis management

Written by Christy Martinez
Several ongoing studies regarding the costs of brucellosis for both Wyoming cattle producers and the public will provide valuable information to decision makers both on and off the ranch.
    In response to interest from cattle producers, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), Wyoming legislators, the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team and other interested parties, UW Assistant Professor Dannele Peck and graduate students within the UW Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics have several economic analyses in the works.
    “Everyone from environmentalists to agency folks have wondered why producers can’t do X, Y and Z to prevent brucellosis, but nobody had a handle on if those measures were an economically viable solution,” says Sublette County rancher Albert Sommers, who is a part of the Brucellosis Coordination Team.
Working through economic scenarios
    Three of the projects on which the department is working include finding the cost of various brucellosis prevention activities, estimating the cost to a producer of contracting brucellosis or being in contact with a positive herd and the affect that closing elk feedgrounds might have on elk populations and elk hunting within the state.
    “One student estimated the cost to producers of adopting different brucellosis management strategies, anything from fencing haystacks to adult booster vaccination, spaying heifers and delayed grazing,” says Peck, adding that another student worked on the cost of contracting brucellosis. “If a producer’s herd or a neighboring herd gets hit, how much cost do they incur? That depends on whether they’re quarantined or have a whole-herd depopulation, and we’re working on those numbers.”
    For the third study, related to elk feedgrounds, a graduate student attempted to calculate the effects, should the Wyoming Game and Fish Department choose to close one or a few elk feedgrounds, or cease another management practice that would reduce elk populations.
    “How much would that action hurt elk hunting?” asks Peck. “How sensitive are hunters to elk populations? How many fewer hunters would apply for tags?”
    Peck has study results for the brucellosis prevention activities, and she awaits finalization of the other two.
Real-world prevention
    “Some of the comparisons Peck makes in the economic studies would potentially give us some tools when we’re looking at the best way to react in a future outbreak,” says Joel Bousman, Boulder rancher who runs cows near an elk feedground.
    Bousman says he would use the costs of preventative measures information when working on his herd plan.
    “If I sit down with the state vet and the WLSB to develop a herd plan, that study gives me information about my choices within the herd plan, and it gives me the information I need to make those decisions based on what would be the least costly,” he states. “Even more so, it puts us in the position to say the WLSB and the Game and Fish that this is what it will cost us. If we know the costs of preventative measures, that puts us in a better position to ask for help.”
    One such preventative measure that Bousman uses is adult vaccination of all females in his herd.
    “I think vaccination is one of the only tools we have, and if we do it properly it’s somewhat effective until we can get a new vaccine developed,” he says. “As a producer, I’m willing to spend the time and the labor associated with the adult vaccination, but I don’t expect to have to pay the WLSB a fee to do it. I expect them to either reimburse my veterinarian or have WLSB vets come and do it, and it always helps to have numbers on the cost.”
Quarantine: the reality
    Bousman says he’s interested in the analysis of the costs and impacts associated with an outbreak, both in and out of the Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area (DSA).
    Having been under quarantine in one brucellosis outbreak, Bousman says he and his family were fortunate in that they were quarantined in December, after shipping, and released from quarantine in early May, in time to head to summer pastures.
    “The time of year is critical, in terms of impacts,” says Bousman, who adds that he and other producers shared that with Peck in a community meeting. “If that quarantine had come in May, that would have put us out of business, because we would not have been allowed to turn out on public lands to comingle with other operators.”
Economic information will educate
    “The big advantage of the work they’re doing is the education of everybody, including other producers, Livestock Board members, the legislators, and all the people who need to come together collectively to deal with the problem,” says Bousman of the economic studies.
    “It’s a good idea to examine these options to see what their costs are, and to ground truth them so people understand there’s a range of values, but the studies will show that Option A is probably more expensive than Option B, and C and D are most expensive,” says Sommers. “The big question is yearling conversion, and that’s something that even I have tried to get my arms around, and whether or not it would work in our operation.”
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Results released for costs of brucellosis prevention
    One study from the UW Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics deals with costs to both producers and “society” of implementing various brucellosis prevention activities.
    In the discussion of the study’s summary, the researchers say, “Little is known about the various management activities’ effectiveness, so it is not clear whether implementing several, relatively cheap management activities is more cost-effective than implementing a single, more expensive activity (that is, whether a combination of activities generates a bigger bang per buck than a single activity). Field research is needed to determine the effectiveness of single versus multiple management activities (although that could be a difficult and expensive undertaking). UW is in the process of estimating how effective each management activity would have to be to justify investing in it, assuming different levels of brucellosis risk an individual cattle herd might face and different levels of economic loss if a herd were to contract brucellosis.”

Annualized cost to a producer of implementing various prevention activities:
Management Strategy    Cost        Units
WG&F Hazing of Elk    $0        Per drive
Fencing a Haystack    $103        Per haystack per year (for 15 yrs)
Adult Booster Vaccination    $797        Per 400-head herd per year (for 15 yrs)
Alternative Feeding    $2,754        Per 400-head herd per year
Spaying Heifers    $3,475        Per 100 head of heifers per year
Hiring Riders    $14,194        Per year
Delayed Grazing    $15,146        Per 400-head herd per year
Annualized cost to ‘society’ (a producer, plus any state/federal agency cost-share) of implementing various prevention activities:
Management Strategy    Cost        Units
WG&F Hazing of Elk    $329        Per drive
Fencing a Haystack    $243        Per haystack per year (for 15 yrs)
Adult Booster Vaccination    $1,547    Per 400-head herd per year (for 15 yrs)
Alternative Feeding    $2,754    Per 400-head herd per year
Spaying Heifers    $3,475    Per 100 head of heifers per year
Hiring Riders    $14,194    Per year
Delayed Grazing    $15,146    Per 400-head herd year

Transition from cows to stockers needs analysis
    A study that’s on the horizon for the UW Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics is an overview of the costs a producer in the Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) might face if they transition from a cow/calf operation to stockers to eliminate the risk of brucellosis transmission.
    Ag and Applied Economics Assistant Professor Dannele Peck says the stocker study began after a review of similar studies found them to be inapplicable to the region.
    “We know, in general, that other researchers have found, for other parts of the U.S., that stocker operations are more profitable, but they’re also more financially risky,” explains Peck. “In Wyoming there hasn’t been a comparison of profitability since the 1960s, and the industry has changed so much that we feel we need an updated study.”
    In a conversation with the WLSB, Peck says board members were particularly interested in the costs of the actual transition to stockers.
    “As a cow/calf producer, there are a lot of details and potential problems associated with transitioning, and that’s not a decision we as producers take lightly,” says Boulder rancher Joel Bousman, noting that, in addition to economics, it also involves the custom and culture that go along with a major change in operation.
    Funding for the study is pending, and Peck expects to hear more this spring as to whether the study will be able to move forward.






    A study that’s on the horizon for the UW Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics is an overview of the costs a producer in the Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) might face if they transition from a cow/calf operation to stockers to eliminate the risk of brucellosis transmission.
    Ag and Applied Economics Assistant Professor Dannele Peck says the stocker study began after a review of similar studies found them to be inapplicable to the region.
    “We know, in general, that other researchers have found, for other parts of the U.S., that stocker operations are more profitable, but they’re also more financially risky,” explains Peck. “In Wyoming there hasn’t been a comparison of profitability since the 1960s, and the industry has changed so much that we feel we need an updated study.”
    In a conversation with the WLSB, Peck says board members were particularly interested in the costs of the actual transition to stockers.
    “As a cow/calf producer, there are a lot of details and potential problems associated with transitioning, and that’s not a decision we as producers take lightly,” says Boulder rancher Joel Bousman, noting that, in addition to economics, it also involves the custom and culture that go along with a major change in operation.
    Funding for the study is pending, and Peck expects to hear more this spring as to whether the study will be able to move forward.