USDA High Plains Grasslands Research Station strives for practical researchWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Cheyenne –“Congress initiated this research station in 1928 with the sole intent of trying to get folks to come to Cheyenne and to stay in Cheyenne,” stated Justin Derner, lead rangeland specialist at the USDA High Plains Grasslands Research Station.
Researchers worked to find shelterbelt trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits and other plants that would grow in the harsh climates of southeast Wyoming. The arboretum that stands today still contains much of the vegetation planted from 1928 to 1930.
“The station started out with horticulture, but also did a lot of vegetables like potatoes, onions, lettuce and all kinds of things,” Derner noted. “In the 50s and 60s, they grew a lot of flowers.”
The city’s flower, the Cheyenne mum, was developed at the station, along with the Fort Laramie and Ogallala varieties of strawberries.
“In 1974, the station was radically changed. Work had been phased out of horticulture and was transformed to grazing lands and mined-land reclamation,” he continued.
Collaboration with the University of Wyoming also began at that time, initiating some of the longest run grazing studies in the country.
“We have cow/calf work that goes back to 1974, and we have yearling work that goes back to 1982 at this station,” Derner stated.
Local ranchers have also collaborated with the station, and some producers host research plots for the science team.
“We are unique in that aspect here because we have a great group of folks who are very proactive,” Derner commented. “Throughout the entire process, we have been able to utilize and capitalize on the talents here.”
Initiated in 2012, scientists from the station make specialized trips to ranches in the area, as well, speaking to producers about what practices they are using.
“We want to look and see what’s going on at local places and find out what good ranchers are doing,” he said.
The goal is to look at real world situations and produce research that is applicable for producers and personnel with the Forest Service, BLM and other agencies.
“There is a fantastic history here at the research station, as it has morphed and changed to address customer issues,” he continued.
Currently, researchers are embarking on a feed study, analyzing manure from their cows.
Keeping tabs on individual animals, Derner explained, “We will be collecting manure on a weekly basis to look at forage quality. We’ve got a new lab that can actually look at that and do DNA analysis to determine exactly what those animals are eating in terms of plants and the amounts of plants.”
The new data should provide better feed quality feedback and provide new insight into the day-to-day dietary patterns of the cows.
“Some of us probably have misconceptions of what animals are actually eating out there during certain parts of the year,” he commented.
The main station, located in Cheyenne, consists of 2,002 acres leased from the city of Cheyenne on a 199-year lease signed in 1928.
“About two miles to the east, against Horse Creek Road, we have 734 acres that were given to us by the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, and that’s where our yearling grazing is,” Derner added.
Related station are also located in Nunn, Colo. and Fort Collins, Colo.
“Our station in Colorado was designed by Temple Grandin and is state-of-the-art,” remarked Derner, noting that the staff is well trained in animal welfare practices.
“We are proactive in terms of how we handle the animals, how we dispose of the animals, how we work with the animals, how we interact with the media and so-forth,” he stated. “We monitor everything.”
Justin Derner spoke at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station on July 14 during the 2015 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Environmental Stewardship Tour.