1,300 bison to be sent to slaughter

By EMILY SCHABACKER/Montana State News

Some 1,300 wild bison from the greater Yellowstone area were sentenced to slaughter in earlier this month due to a potential brucellosis outbreak and overpopulation of the species within the park.

Controversy surrounds the annual slaughter as cattle ranchers work to maintain the current containment of bison inside park boundaries, while conservationists work to allow wild bison to migrate beyond the park’s borders.

Cattle ranchers fear that free range bison will spread brucellosis to cattle populations, consequently losing Montana’s status as a brucellosis free state, according to the United States Agricultural Department.

Many ranchers fear free-roaming bison will also threaten grazing land that is currently used for livestock. However, many environmental conservationists and animal advocates protest the slaughter, as there has never been a recorded transmittal of the disease from bison to cattle, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign of West Yellowstone. Continue reading “1,300 bison to be sent to slaughter”

Pest-resistant wheat protects crops, economy

By ZACH FENT/Montana State News

Wheat farmers’ concerns may soon be put to rest as a new era of engineered crop can now stop bugs right in their tracks.

Montana State University’s Montana Agricultural Experiment Station (MAES) has been working closely with farmers, wheat breeders, agricultural scientists and geneticists in order to create a pest-resistant strain of wheat specifically tailored to the Orange Wheat Blossom Midge.

Targeting wheat crops, the midge burrows into the wheat seeds and lays its larvae. This process completely destroys the developing seed and crop, providing a new and larger generation of pests.

The midge came down to the Great Plains from Canada, first sighted in America in the early 1990s. Up until now, only small outbreaks causing moderate damage in crop productivity had been seen.

Recently, the presence of the midge in Montana has steadily increased and has become one of the major concerns facing farmers and the state’s cash crop-based economy.

Continue reading “Pest-resistant wheat protects crops, economy”

Bat disease could impact farming costs

By MEGAN AHERN and ALEXANDRA DUBIN/Montana State News

A deadly fungal disease that is easily communicable has scientists across the country stumped devising methods to prevent or slow its spread. Currently, their best efforts focus on tracking the disease to predict where it will strike next. Once signs of the disease become evident, it doesn’t take long for the victim to suffer an excruciating death by exhaustion or starvation. It may sound like the plot to a bad horror movie, but white-nose syndrome is all too real.

Though this disease isn’t communicable to humans, it remains a cause for concern.

White-nose syndrome is a disease that affects the bat population across North America and is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Since its arrival in Albany, New York in 2006, the United States Geological Survey, USGS, estimates that it has killed over 6 million bats in seven different hibernating species.

Brandi Skone, a Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologist who studies northern long-eared bats, has seen first-hand the damage white-nose syndrome can do. Northern long-eared bats, once considered one of the most prevalent bat species in North America, were recently listed as federally threatened due to population declines caused by the fungus.

Continue reading “Bat disease could impact farming costs”

‘Miracle of life’ unfolds during calving season

By LILLY BROGGER/Montana State News

The eerie sound of bawling cows and crying coyotes fills the night sky as Buck Highberger walks through a pen of pregnant first-calf cows. The technical term for these pregnant cows is heifers. The majority of them are set to calve over the next three weeks.

Highberger is from Red Lodge and has worked various ranch jobs from New Mexico to New Zealand the majority of his life. He is accustomed to calving. He ended up with this calving job after the woman originally hired was run over by a wild heifer.

Tonight, Highberger needs to help a heifer calf. He spots the one he’s looking for, shining his flashlight on her white ear tag. The cow has been in labor since five in the evening and doesn’t look like she’ll be able to have her baby on her own. Right now, the calf’s front feet are visible, but the heifer has obviously spent herself.

It’s February in Montana, the Climbing Arrow Ranch replacement heifers are calving. These new mothers often need guidance in keeping track of their calves, some may even need help giving birth. The day crew keeps track of them during the workday and a night calver is hired to watch the heifers when the cow boss is off work.

Continue reading “‘Miracle of life’ unfolds during calving season”

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