I traveled to Jackson again yesterday, and had the pleasure of encountering these juvenile trumpeter swans. The trumpeter swan is North America’s largest flying bird. Although not listed as an endangered species, trumpeter swan populations were decimated in the past and have made a long, slow return to healthier numbers, with western Wyoming’s Green River basin becoming a key area for this expansion.

Testing elk for brucellosis

Today I accompanied the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to photograph the process of testing elk for brucellosis. The testing program, in its fifth and final year, takes place at three elk feedgrounds on the western flank of the Wind River Mountains. I’ve covered the testing program every year for various media.

The photo above shows the elk trap – a huge wooden corral setup, at the Muddy Creek elk feedground.

Brucellosis is an incurable highly contagious disease associated with the reproductive tract, so only adult female elk are tested. All bulls and calves are released (although eartags are placed in the calves’ ears for future identification if needed).

The photo above shows the chutes elk are processed in. After being moved from a large round corral, they are pushed into alleyways, and groups of about six are separated into paneled boxes, and eventually sorted into individual chutes, where they can be “squeezed” and handled.

Blood samples are drawn from a vein in the neck. If the individual elk is excessively nervous, a blindfold is used to help calm her. I liked how this elk remained rather calm, but never took her eye off the biologist working on her.

A calf is released from the chute after an eartag was inserted into its ear.

These adult females have all been processed and will be held overnight in the trap, awaiting their fate. Each blood sample has a number that corresponds to the rubber tags around the cow’s necks. Animals that test positive for brucellosis will be sent to slaughter, and the remainder will be released back onto the feedground.

The test-and-removal program is a five-year effort aimed at reducing the presence of the disease brucellosis in elk herds along the western front of the Wind River Range. Brucellosis is a contagious disease that causes abortions in hoofed animals and is present in elk and bison in the Yellowstone region. Brucellosis transmitted by Muddy Creek feedground elk to a neighboring cattle herd in 2003 resulted in the slaughter of the entire cattle herd. Several other cattle herds were later destroyed for the same reason, and transmission from elk was indicated in all cases.

Brucellosis can also be transmitted to humans – right off the top of my head I can name five people I personally know who have had it (three vets and two ranchers). It’s a horrible disease, and as many of you know, is subject to control efforts throughout the world. Some hospitals in Central Asia have entire wards dedicated to treating patients with this disease.

Brucellosis seroprevalence rates in elk using the Muddy Creek feedground have progressively decreased from 37 percent to seven percent in the first four years of the program.

Look at what Jim brought home

Yesterday, Pete called and said he’d heard there was a young bearded collie at the animal control pound in Pinedale, but he wasn’t going to be anywhere near the western Wyoming town. Jim was just outside of Pinedale, so he stopped in, and low and behold, look what came home with him last night. We’ll keep the five-month old pup for a few days while he calms down and learns a few manners (from Rena). Pete’s herders will put him to work and soon he’ll have a new mission in life. He sure is cute.

Oh the things we see

Last weekend we took the three pups out to our friend’s Midland Ranch, so they could finish the bonding process and head out to guard their first sheep herd on the range. Here’s a few images from the ranch. Doesn’t the chair look inviting?

This is a Belgian mare and colt. The colt is dragging a lead rope, and mama fussed with it enough that she became entangled in it as well (which I suspect was her goal). There are several colts in training in the corrals at the ranch.

The first thing we saw is the last picture today. These young rams have been painted red, so they can be used as marker sheep (i.e., one marker for every 100 sheep, providing an efficient way to count a herd).

The Beast of Baton Rouge

It’s difficult to describe the pride I feel to share this picture with you all.

My girls ran to me recently as I parked the car after work: “There’s a dead animal in the ditch. Come see! It’s SO COOL!”

Here’s B with with her prize find. Can anyone identify the dead beast? This looks like a job for Darren…

Kyrgyz horses

Jim and I are intrigued by Central Asia, and curious what we can learn as livestock producers from producers in other regions of the world, especially people who run sheep in wolf country. Recently we were doing research on Kyrgyzstan and saw an interesting reference to the small and stout horses they use in that country, called Kyrgyz Ate. These horses were on the verge of extinction, but a program has been put in place for their restoration, and now festivals are held to showcase these animals. The founder of the program was quoted as saying: “Some shepherds in the high altitudes still had this type of horse that is stronger, more economical, that can fight wolves.”

A horse that fights wolves? Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest densities of wolves in Central Asia, with an estimated population of 4,000 wolves. Without firearms, shepherds would run down wolves, clubbing them to death from atop their steeds.

Although we looked for more information, we found just a few other references to these horses guarding their livestock flocks and horse herds. A Social Sciences article by Nicolas Lescureux talked about the relationship between Kyrgyz stockmen and wolves, and this French researcher summarized the various ways wolves and humans interact and change behaviors in response to those interactions. He noted that the stockmen use a variety of methods to reduce the amount of wolf depredation on their herds, and added, “the ability of a stallion to protect its herd against wolves is a greatly appreciated criterion.”

Apparently wolf depredation on horse herds is rather common in both Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. While sheep and goats may be corralled at night in winter, horse herds remain out on pastures, proving vulnerable to wolves. As an aside, the Kyrgyzs insist their horses are different than horses found in Mongolia.

After reading these enticing little morsels of information, our interest in Central Asia continues to increase. Oh what they know that we would like to learn …

Border guards

We arrived back at the sheep pasture this afternoon to find a quiet standoff in progress. Two young bull moose were in the pasture, but the three burros were lined up in a row, forming a border between the sheep herd and the moose. What I love about this photo are the magpies on the butt of the burro in the middle. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

These two moose are well known in the sheep pasture. They’ve been lurking around on the other side of the river, watching me do chores, and sulking about the dogs not letting them into the haystack. The dogs leave the moose alone, as long as they keep their distance. Today was just another day in the neighborhood, and the moose finally went on their way into the next pasture.