Livestock Board looks toward local inputWritten by Jennifer Womack
Hearings will focus on what Wyoming wants, NAIS or a local program
Casper – While dates haven’t yet been set, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) is making plans to hear from Wyoming folks on the future of animal tracking in the Cowboy State.
Some in Wyoming, a few of whom have written letters to this publication, have voiced opinions that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) should not be implemented in Wyoming. Enrollment in the state’s voluntary premises identification program has been modest with only around 2,000 producers enrolling to date.
WLSB member and Gillette rancher Eric Barlow, speaking at the board’s late February meeting, said had it been a General Session the future of NAIS in Wyoming would have been debated on the floor of the Wyoming Legislature. A bill sponsored by Representative Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) could have severed Wyoming’s involvement in the national program. It was one of several pieces of similar legislation being debated in state capitol buildings across the country.
Failing to get the necessary two-thirds vote for introduction during a Budget Session, Wallis’ bill did receive support from nearly half the legislators in the house of origin. Anticipating the legislation’s return to Cheyenne next year, Barlow stated, “I think we should lead this discussion.”
“If you don’t like NAIS, what do you want?” said WLSB Director Jim Schwartz of what may become the overarching question at the upcoming hearings. It’s a question that should bring a new level of debate to the subject that has to date been addressed mostly from an angle of what producers don’t want.
“I think the WLSB needs to do it,” said Hyattville rancher Keith Hamilton of any program that is to be implemented. Financial impacts, he said, must be a consideration. Unsure before a Foot and Mouth Disease presentation that took place in Cheyenne late February, Hamilton said he walked away thinking, “Maybe we don’t have a choice. Maybe we’re going to have to do it to save our necks.”
“Personally,” said Chugwater rancher Judy West, “we’re using it as a marketing tool.” For the first time this year the Wests placed electronic I.D. tags in the cattle they sold and received top price. “With all the talk about the European markets opening, but that they have to be age and source verified, that’s the only way to go to get a premium price.”
As far as protection from disease outbreaks is concerned West said, “I think our brand registration and our brand inspectors with the information they have, are probably going to be able to trace back Wyoming cattle almost as rapidly with the system that has been in place as they can with premises I.D.” West stresses that the program needs to continue to be voluntary.
“If NAIS is not implemented in Wyoming we agree that there needs to be something in place in the event of an animal disease outbreak,” say Mike and Norleen Cheser who raise goats near Kaycee. “There are species-specific programs in place that are working, but could be enhanced or used more effectively. It seems most logical to enhance and fully utilize existing programs.” While they see room for improvement, the Chesers say the scrapies program has worked well.
“I personally am not in favor of it,” said Big Horn Basin rancher Gary Rice of NAIS. “We’ve got our livestock identification here in the state and each individual ranch has their identification. We can handle it just as good, or better, than the national thing. I’m pretty skeptical of having the feds and their nose in everything. I think we ought to stick to our state thing.”
When asked if the state’s current system would be adequate in the event of a disease outbreak Rice said, “I think that it’s just as efficient as this is going to be. Every individual knows his livestock and has them identified, pretty much. The way I’ve watched these electric I.D. systems, you’ve got to gather the whole herd and run them through the chute. It’s a big pain. Every livestock owner I know can go out and identify the animals they’ve tagged and branded. I think we’re all right without this federal government intrusion into our private rights.”
“I don’t,” said Wyarno rancher Bridget Kukowski when asked if she supports NAIS. “The way it looks to me, all of the cost ends up on the producer, which I don’t think is fair or the way it should be. We have brand laws in our state and we’re able to trace back. I think individual states should come up with plans within their state. Our brand inspections are adequate and would cover our bases for traceback in the case of a disease outbreak.”
Wyoming’s fledgling Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) group, like their national R-CALF USA affiliate, is calling for an end to NAIS. In a prepared statement issued late February ICOW member and Cheyenne rancher Dr. Taylor Haynes stated, “Wyoming already has an identification system in place that has effectively served the livestock producers of Wyoming for over 100 years. Why would we want farmers and ranchers saddled with the indefinite cost of a redundant, intrusive, federally mandated program when simple improvements to our existing systems would be highly effective?”
“Economic viability of producers,” according to the ICOW statement, “should be the ultimate goal of an animal health program. Any proposed program should be measured, not by how well it tracks individual animals, not by how well it controls diseases, but by whether or not it is the most cost effective means to achieve an economically reasonable level of disease control.”
“I don’t think they should be trying to force it from the top down,” said Rice. “If it’s got to be done let the livestock producers decide how they want it.”