USDA Forest Service Announces New Strategy for Improving Forest Conditions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) announced today a new strategy for managing catastrophic wildfires and the impacts of invasive species, drought, and insect and disease epidemics.

Specifically, a new report titled Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy (PDF, 3.7 MB) outlines the USFS’s plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs.

“On my trip to California this week, I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires. We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.”

Both federal and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, degraded watersheds, and epidemics of forest insects and disease. The conditions fueling these circumstances are not improving. Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters.

“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time.”

A key component of the new strategy is to prioritize investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools. This allows the USFS to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests.

The USFS will also build upon the authorities created by the 2018 Omnibus Bill, including new categorical exclusions for land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities, and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas. The agency will continue streamlining its internal processes to make environmental analysis more efficient and timber sale contracts more flexible.

The Omnibus Bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix,” starting in FY 2020, that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wildland fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs. The product of more than a decade of hard work, this bipartisan solution will ultimately stabilize the agency’s operating environment.

Finally, because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response, the report emphasizes the agency’s commitment to a risk-based response to wildfire.

The complete strategy is available at (PDF, 3.7 MB).

Photographs of the event are available at:

The mission of the USFS, an agency of the USDA, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

Monitor Bulls for Activity and Injuries During Breeding Season

cobb charolais bullThe majority of beef herds in this region are in the heart of their breeding seasons, and many of those that aren’t will start their breeding seasons soon.

“From a management standpoint, the work isn’t over once breeding soundness exams are conducted and potentially fertile bulls are turned out to breeding pastures,” says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.

To ensure a successful breeding season, bulls should be monitored carefully for breeding activity, injuries and overall condition throughout their time in breeding pastures, he advises. The desire of a bull to breed, or libido, is not something that can be determined during a breeding soundness exam. In addition, breeding is a learned behavior, so producers should pay particular attention to monitoring yearling bulls.

“To monitor breeding activity, simply take the time to watch pastures and make sure bulls are actively seeking and breeding females,” Dahlen says. “While watching bulls, physical deformities (deviated penis, inability to extend penis, etc.) and other issues that can prevent successful intromission and ejaculation from occurring also can be identified. In these instances, a bull may be mounting cows in heat but not completing a successful breeding. Pay attention to the entire mating process to make sure erection, intromission and ejaculation all are occurring.”

Injuries are another major issue that can be identified while monitoring bulls. Some injuries can severely limit or eliminate a bull’s ability or desire to breed females successfully. A summary of breeding soundness exam results from North Dakota veterinarians revealed that injuries to reproductive organs were a major reason for mature bulls failing tests.

“As these injuries were identified during a breeding soundness exam and not during the breeding season, close observation is required,” Dahlen says.

Major injuries that would make bulls physically unable to perform, such as broken or sprained legs, likely would be easy to spot. Lacerations that result in a penis not being able to retract are easy to see as well. Other cases are not as easy to identify. For example, swelling just ahead of the scrotum may indicate a “broken penis” or a hematoma, and swollen or misshapen testicles may indicate testicular injuries.

Injuries may cause physical pain and a low libido, or a bull may be willing to breed but is no longer capable. In any case, part of the healing process can create scar tissue, and this scar tissue may interfere with future reproduction.

Dahlen recommends observing bulls interacting with females and females interacting with each other early in the breeding season because those interactions can give a good indication of the relative proportion of females that are cyclic.

If all cows are cyclic, producers should expect to see almost 5 percent in estrus on a daily basis. Fewer and fewer females will be in estrus on a daily basis from the middle to the end of the breeding season.

So if 65 percent of the cows became pregnant in the first 21 days, then only 35 percent of the herd remains to be bred. This means less than 2 percent of cows would be in estrus per day from day 22 to 42 of the breeding season. After day 42 of the breeding season, less than 1 percent of females should be in estrus every other day for the remainder of the breeding season.

Ideally, cows should be on an increasing plane of nutrition with sufficient supplies of mineral and high-quality pastures or feeds during the breeding season. If close observation of pastures reveals that a relatively similar proportion of cows are in estrus in the middle of the breeding season, compared with early in the breeding season, then some type of intervention is critical.

Once bulls have been evaluated for injuries, body condition and libido, and single-sire pasture bulls have been evaluated for the ability to mate successfully, producers should take active steps to rotate or replace bulls that are injured, have low libido or are in pastures with a high proportion of estrus cows late in the breeding season.

“Identifying potential issues before the end of the breeding season can allow a producer to take active steps to salvage the remainder of the breeding season and ensure a greater proportion of the herd becomes pregnant,” Dahlen says.

For more information, contact Dahlen at (701) 231-5588 or, or NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist Gerald Stokka at (701) 231-5082 or

Tips for a Successful Bull Season – Breeding Soundness Exams

Vet Tested. Kid Approved! Image via Jennifer Nielson from Fallon during 2015 Spring Bull Testing

Vet Tested. Kid Approved! Image via Jennifer Nielson from Fallon during 2015 Spring Bull Testing

By Dr. Megan Van Emon, Montana State Beef Cattle Extension Specialist

One of the most cost efficient methods of a successful breeding program is the breeding soundness exam (BSE) conducted on bulls.  Bulls are responsible for breeding 20 to 50 cows each breeding season while cows are responsible for one calf each year.  Having a BSE conducted on the bulls is crucial to a successful breeding program.

The BSE is an exam conducted by veterinarians that includes a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the reproductive tract.  Evaluating the feet, legs, teeth, eyes, flesh cover, and scrotal circumference and shape is included in the physical exam.  The semen evaluation includes semen normality and motility.  The BSE should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to the beginning of breeding.  It is important to note that the bull’s sperm production cycle is approximately 60 days, and if illness, injury or other issue occurs, this could negatively impact the BSE and breeding capability of the bull and may need to be re-evaluated.  An additional BSE can be conducted at the end of the breeding season to determine if bull fertility decreased throughout the breeding season.

Body condition is crucial for bulls during the breeding season.  Having adequate flesh cover during the breeding season is needed to provide the extra energy required for breeding.  Body condition can be impacted by the number of cows the bull is expected to breed, the distance traveled to breed or eat, and nutrition during the breeding season.  A body condition score 6 or sufficient body condition that the ribs appear smooth across the bull’s side is the ideal flesh cover at the start of the breeding season.

Ensuring bulls are structurally sound in their feet and legs is needed to begin the breeding season.  Bulls with unsound feet and legs will have a difficult time walking and mounting for mating if a significant distance needs to be traveled for breeding.  General health of the bull is also needed to ensure bulls have adequate semen quality and the ability to mate.  Scrotal circumference is an essential measure because it is directly related to sperm production, sperm normality, and the onset of puberty.  The external and internal reproductive tract examinations ensure there is no inflammation, abscesses, warts, or penile deviations.

The semen evaluation includes the measurement of semen motility or the percentage of sperm cells moving in a forward direction.  The bulls needs to at least have 30% sperm motility to pass the BSE.  Sperm morphology, or the proper shape, is also determined and at least 70% of the sperm cells should have a normal shape.

If all of the minimum requirements are met, the bull will be classed as “satisfactory.”  However, if a bull does not pass one of the tests, they will be classed as “classification deferred.”  If a bull is classed as “classification deferred,” the bull should be tested again after 6 weeks.  If a mature bull fails the subsequent BSEs, they will be classified as “unsatisfactory.”  A young bull may be “classification deferred,” and pass the subsequent test.  Exercise caution when making bull culling decisions based on a single BSE.

Know Ranch Employee Needs to Improve People Management

In this video, Casey Risinger, DVM, Risinger Veterinary Hospital, Terrell, Texas, says you have to change yourself to help your team succeed. “I wasn’t sure if this program was something that would work in a veterinary clinic or if it was specifically for a feedyard or dairy. And it wasn’t at all. It was all about if you manage people.” Learn more at

In this video, Casey Risinger, DVM, Risinger Veterinary Hospital, Terrell, Texas, says you have to change yourself to help your team succeed. “I wasn’t sure if this program was something that would work in a veterinary clinic or if it was specifically for a feedyard or dairy. And it wasn’t at all. It was all about if you manage people.” Learn more at

Dr. Casey Risinger is a veterinarian. But he is also a manager of people.

Until now, Dr. Risinger had never given a review to any of his team members. He didn’t know how much he, his staff and business needed it.

“I’ve been told by other people, yes, you need to do this, but I had put it off and put it off,” said Dr. Risinger, of Risinger Veterinary Hospital in Terrell, Texas. “I just think everybody knows what’s going on and what to do. I know what I expect and surely everybody reads my mind. But I realize they don’t.”

Learning how to communicate in new ways with staff helped him see how much he could support his team.

“The reviews really helped me have a better understanding of what was expected of me and what they thought I was expecting out of them,” Dr. Risinger said. “They want to know how they can get better, where I think they can get better, and then they want to be able to express what I can do to help them.”

It even made him aware of issues he had never considered before.

“I would realize there was a problem, but I really didn’t understand where it was coming from,” he said. “I never thought about that, and I think that was one of the key things, is just understanding where people are at and where I can help them. Now I’ve got the tools to do that.”

The only way your business gets bigger and better is through your ability to manage people, he continued.

“I have to change first,” Dr. Risinger said. “The better I get, the better I should be able to help staff, help new employees, help existing people find out the needs they have. I can help the staff, and the more they know, and the more they’ve been trained, the more they can help the customer.

“Encouragement is always the best motivator, and when clients give comments and feedback, this gets everybody excited about trying to do a better job.”

In this video, hear more from Dr. Risinger about how you can learn to help your team. For help identifying ways to build a better team and veterinary clinic, operation or business, contact your local Zoetis representative or visit

This is part of a series on rancher continuing education articles and provided by Zoetis. To see more rancher education posts, click here.

A Different Age of Managing Ranch Employees

In this video, Jason Gerstberger, yard manager at Pioneer Feedyard in Oakley, Kansas, shares why managers need to better understand employees. Learn more at

In this video, Jason Gerstberger, yard manager at Pioneer Feedyard in Oakley, Kansas, shares why managers need to better understand employees. Learn more at

Every employee has a different way of working, thinking and communicating, especially when it comes to different generations. It’s easy to see those differences and challenges, but it’s not as simple to manage.

Rather than just trying to change the team or individuals, it’s important that managers learn how to recognize generational differences and adapt. For Pioneer Feedyard near Oakley, Kansas, this required a different way to manage.

“There’s always challenges with age, race, even males and females in the industry,” said Jason Gerstberger, yard manager at Pioneer Feedyard. “The biggest one was learning to deal with different generational gaps and how to get one generation to understand another generation without causing too many problems or issues. In the older generation, they didn’t ask why, they just went ahead and did the work. But with the younger generation, they want to know why before they go do it.”

Gerstberger understands that to overcome this challenge and get the most out of each employee, managers and supervisors need to take the time to understand each person — and what keeps him or her motivated. It means taking time to understand how to best communicate with people as individuals.

To better learn how to do this, Pioneer Feedyard sent managers through the PeopleFirst™ Supervisory Certificate Program from Zoetis.

“PeopleFirst — we invested in it to get the benefits that we could, to get the most potential out of our employees that we could, not only by work, but by understanding what they’re doing,” Gerstberger said. “And in doing those things, get more out of our people.”

“What it allowed us to do is push our foremen a little bit more,” he continued.

“It helps to tell the older generation, ‘explain to these guys why you’re doing it, and they’ll be able to get it done a lot better and be able to do it with you,’” Gerstberger said. “The foremen are probably more engaged with the individuals they are working with. They can understand how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it. They understand what they’re seeing, what the problems are and help them to fix and increase their profitability on their issues.”

Gerstberger knows that adapting your management style can go a long way.

“Individuals, if they can learn to react a little different to certain situations, they’ll get more respect from the people working under them and, therefore, we’ll get more benefit out of it here at this yard,” Gerstberger said. “You’re going to get more profitability, which they can put back into the cattle.”

In this video, hear more from Gerstberger about what you can do to help your team understand the value of their role to the company’s success. For help identifying ways to invest in and strengthen your employees, contact your local Zoetis representative or visit

This is part of a series on rancher continuing education articles and provided by Zoetis. To see more rancher education posts, click here.

Free Webinar to Highlight Bull Selection Tools

Bull Selection Tools NCBADENVER – National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has announced the next in its continuing series of educational webinars. The upcoming session, scheduled for Feb. 19, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. MST, focuses on understanding bull selection tools and the use of selection indices. This timely topic is useful to anyone looking to add a bull to their herd this spring utilizing the latest genome-based selection tools.

Panelists for the webinar include Dan Moser, PhD., President of Angus Genetics Inc., and Director of Performance Programs for the American Angus Association; Jack Ward, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Breed Improvement for the American Hereford Association; and Wade Shafer, PhD., CEO of the American Simmental Association.

These three industry-leading breed association experts have a background in the commercial and seedstock cattle industries, as well as a thorough understanding of the latest advancements in the use of genomically-enhanced EPDs and other progeny selection tools.

This free NCBA producer education webinar is open to all, but space is limited. Register today at

For additional information, contact Josh White, executive director of Producer Education at:

MSU Extension offers advice on evaluating soil health

Image via:

Image via:

BOZEMAN – Experts with Montana State University and MSU Extension have recommendations for growers on evaluating soil quality and health.

The concept may seem subjective, but there are ways to measure and improve soil health. It takes time to measure, monitor and manage to improve soil health, but it can be worth the effort for potential benefit in sustainability and productivity.

“With ‘soil heath’ now being a frequently heard term, we want agricultural producers to be aware of what factors contribute to soil heath and how they can be reliably measured,” said Clain Jones, Extension soil fertility specialist at MSU.

Soil productivity is influenced by its chemical characteristics, physical structure and biological activity. Measurements of these properties provide an estimate of the soil’s ability to produce crops. Indicators of soil productivity can be tracked over time, compared in side-by-side fields, or compared to a reference soil and are useful to assess the effect of management or evaluate problem areas.

Chemical soil characteristics, including pH, soil organic matter, nutrient levels and cation exchange capacity are often part of routine soil analyses done by analytical labs. The physical properties such as available water holding capacity (also called plant available water), bulk density, porosity and aggregate stability, are also most reliable if measured by an accredited lab, yet not all labs perform these measurements. Field tests are available for many of these soil properties but they often rely on subjective interpretation of potentially imprecise measurements. Microbial activity is also important, yet has the least defined set of measureable factors by which it can be quantified.

For a quick assessment of soil health, get out a shovel and dig. Compare a cropped soil with undisturbed fence-line soil. How deep do roots go? Does it break apart easily? Does it smell earthy? Is there evidence of worms? Darker color indicates more soil organic matter or soil carbon.

“The shovel test can give the grower an idea of their soil quality and identify what problems they might be facing,” said Jones.

Major steps towards increasing soil health are to reduce tillage, increase crop diversity and reduce fallow time by including alternative crops or cover crops into the rotations.

For more detailed information on soil health indicators and measurements, see Jones’ The Soil Scoop on his website, or contact Clain Jones at or 406-994-6076.