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Wyoming People

Hixon honored as outstanding Ag Citizen

The first thing Dr. Doug Hixon has to say about being named Outstanding Ag Citizen of the Year is that he doesn’t deserve it; he can think of many people other than himself who ought to receive the honor.

Clearly, his colleagues around the state disagree.

So does his resume, which reveals a lifetime’s worth of dedication to agriculture. He’s been involved in the industry since he was a child, raised on a livestock and grain farm in east central Illinois.

After high school, he spent two years at Illinois State University, and then transferred to the University of Illinois, where he received a B.S. degree in 1968 and an M.S. degree in 1970. For the next 10 years, he managed the Beef Cattle Research Unit on the university campus; he was responsible for the management of approximately 150 registered and commercial beef cows and approximately 800 feedlot research cattle annually. He completed his Ph.D., in ruminant nutrition and reproductive physiology, while working full-time from 1975-1980.

Next came two years as a beef cattle extension specialist at the University of Tennessee. In 1982, Hixon came to Wyoming and UW as an assistant professor and beef cattle extension specialist. He was promoted to associate professor of animal science in 1986 and professor in 1995. Today, he spends 25 percent of his time teaching and 75 percent of his time in extension work, helping producers solve problems and conducting an active applied research program in beef cattle management with an emphasis on nutrition and reproduction.

The research, he says, comes directly out of extension work and talking to producers to find out what their problems and concerns are. “He spends many hours on the telephone helping with producers’ problems. Doug’s concerns for the beef cattle industry and the producers in Wyoming are unmatched,” says Dr. David Sanson, ruminant nutrition specialist at Rosepine Research Station in Louisiana.

As a result, Hixon has successfully established several programs to benefit producers. One is the Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association, for which he has served as executive secretary since its inception. With his assistance, the organization established a bull test, a feedlot test and carcass evaluation program, and a replacement heifer development program. The latter program was suspended after four years due to associated costs; however, a couple of variations of the heifer program are being reconsidered this year.

“Doug was the driving force in forming the association,” says Wayne Tatman, Goshen County Extension Director. “The one thing that stands out in all it’s efforts are that they are all very practical, educational and beneficial to producers. Doug is definitely a leader in the beef industry in Wyoming, as well as nationally.”

Bill Glanz of Worland credits Hixon for the success of WBCIA. Beyond the organization, Glanz says he was always on hand to help weigh bulls or any other job to keep the function running smoothly.

The bull test has been going on for about 15 years now. It allows producers to consign their bull calves at weaning; last year they were brought from as far away as Iowa and New Mexico. Once the bulls get acclimated to the feedlot conditions, they begin a 120-day gain test period before being tested for breeding soundness. The top 70 percent qualify to be sold at the annual sale, if the producer wishes. This year, ultrasound technology may be added to the evaluation process.

The feedlot test is now in it 16th year. Last year, 300 head of cattle were consigned by 21 producers. They’re fed at Stevenson’s Double S Livestock and Feeders, near Wheatland, and eventually marketed on a value-based grid system. The producer receives all the information about things such as gain, cost and carcass measurements, along with an economic evaluation comparing finishing to selling feeder calves.

“It’s a good program in terms of allowing people to get paid for quality,” Hixon says. “That programs has grown. It really addresses current issues in the beef industry. The bull test does too, because of the importance of genetics. In general, growth traits have heritability estimates ranging from 30-40 percent. Most carcass traits are about 40-50 percent heritable. Those genetic contributions can have a major impact on profitability and sustainability of production systems.” His feedlot nutrition research on calves produced in the UW herd evaluates these management decisions to determine their effect on the final product, and includes a shear force evaluation to test tenderness.

Heifer development is another real challenge, Hixon adds, especially in Wyoming. “We’ve given some attention to that over the years. In Wyoming, there are limited resources. We’re looking at things like fat supplementation, which may be a means of trying to be efficient and cost-effective.”

Hixon also devotes efforts to making the use of AI with heifers easier and more efficient, in part by trying to incorporate timed insemination and doing away with the time-consuming step of estrus detection. “If we can do that and be just as effective, we’ll see a real increase in the use of AI,” he says.

“That would be good because it’s such a benefit in terms of genetic improvement. We also evaluate the effects of winter supplementation programs on reproductive efficiency and the associated estrous synchronization scheme.”

In the last couple of years, Hixon has looked especially at fat supplementation and its effect on reproduction, but winter supplementation has long been a special focus of his research, because of its relevance to Wyoming environment. “Especially in Laramie, where winter comes early and stays late, wintering costs can be significant component of annual costs,” he says. “We work with winter supplement programs of beef cows to look at cost effective means and different management programs to most effectively get cows though and what effect there might be on reproduction. It’s a critical issue for producers in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region.”

Hixon has also done some experiments with early weaning calves from young 2-and-3-year-old cows that show considerable benefit to a dam’s body condition, with no sacrifice of the calf’s weight when it is grazed on meadow regrowth.

His life apart from work at UW includes a wife, Marilyn, and their three grown children, Todd, Tricia and Tasha. Hixon does keep a few of his own Angus cows, which his son takes care of as part of his herd. “They’re not a major factor of livelihood, but I enjoy working with them,” he says “They do get sick and die, just like everybody else’s,” he adds, laughing. “That keeps you honest in terms of what you tell people!”

Hixon has written numerous management guides and fact sheets for state and regional publications. He has been called upon for presentations across the state, the country, and even as far away as Buenos Aires. He’s a member of the American Society of Animal Science, Gamma Sigma Delta, Wyoming Beef Cattle Improvement Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, National Cattleman’s Beef Association and the Beef Improvement Federation.

Hixon has provided leadership for the Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program in Wyoming and participates in extension activities such as Beef Cattle Improvement Federation and Range Beef Cow Symposium. He has judged cattle shows in 30 different states, including six national junior breed association shows. Plaques covering his office walls describe many of these honors that he has received, such as Outstanding Extension Specialist from the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science; Partner in 4-H Award, honorary state farmer degree from Wyoming FFA; Mortar Board Society’s “Top Prof” Award; Guardian of the Grasslands from Wyoming Stock Growers; and Continuing Service Award from the Beef Improvement Federation.

But all of that recognition is not what he’s after; for Hixon, helping agriculture and producers is a privilege. “The thing I’ve enjoyed the most has been working with the people of Wyoming: the producers and the extension and University people,” he says. “What I have found is that people here are such good people, just solid citizens. And anything that I’ve accomplished has been with the help of a lot of others.”