Chew on that: Lower grazing fees for Northwest Colorado ranchers plays into Denver efforts to promote area beef

Lower grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service lands for 2019 may help pave the way for a city of Denver initiative that would connect beef producers in Moffat and Routt counties directly to consumers in Denver.

According to a Feb. 20 news release from BLM, grazing fees in 2019 will drop to $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by BLM and $1.35 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the USDA Forest Service. BLM said 2018’s grazing fee was $1.41 per AUM.

“The annually determined grazing fee is established using a 1966 base value of $1.23 per AUM/HM for livestock grazing on public lands in Western states,” according to a BLM news release. “The figure is then calculated according to three factors — current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices, and the cost of livestock production. In effect, the fee rises, falls, or stays the same based on market conditions.”

Brian Lombard, a public affairs specialist with BLM, said the fees decreased due to a few key factors.

“The decrease in the fee is the result of an increase in the forage value index (542 to 562), an increase in the prices paid index (963 to 993) and a decrease in the beef cattle prices index (510 to 499),” Lombard said in an email. “Generally, increases/decreases in the BCPI and PPI have the most influence on increases/decreases in the grazing fee.”

Lombard said ranchers whose livestock grazes on BLM and NFS lands stand to save money.

“On average, there would be an annual savings to $31.32 per authorization over the course of the 2019 grazing fee year compared to the 2018 fee year,” Lombard said.

A decrease in grazing fees is a good thing for beef producers in Moffat and Routt counties, especially if the fees remain low long enough for passage of a Denver initiative that seeks to put grass-fed beef in the hands of Denver’s meat lovers.

The Craig Press obtained a survey for Moffat and Routt county beef producers drafted by Colorado State University doctoral student Kevin Jablonski. It seems Denver is looking to curb its purchasing practices to obtain locally produced beef.

“The city of Denver is considering changes to its institutional purchasing to support Colorado farmers and ranchers,” the survey said. “This may present an opportunity for ranchers to add value to their products by following certain production and marketing guidelines.”

According to the survey, Denver is looking to gauge how Moffat and Routt’s beef producers feel about producing Colorado-sourced, grass-fed beef under three scenarios.

Colorado source-identified beef

In this scenario, cattle would need to be traceable from birth through processing. This would require that calves be tagged with a unique identifier. This identifier would follow an animal through the chain of production (backgrounding, feedlot, slaughterhouse) such that when the beef is sold, it can be identified as having been born, fed, finished, and slaughtered in Colorado. Estimated cost would be $500 per year, plus $1 per animal sold, though this would decrease or disappear as record keeping became systemized.

Animal Welfare Approved certification

In this scenario, the ranch would need to be certified as meeting Animal Welfare Approved standards. The certification itself is free, but production practices might need to change to meet the standards, which include the following:

• The ranch must have a written health plan, created in collaboration with an expert advisor, that addresses lameness, vaccinations, biosecurity, nutrition, environmental impacts, pasture management, predator and rodent exclusion, euthanasia, mastitis, and Johne’s disease.

• Heifers cannot calve before two years of age.

• Fenceline weaning or other low-stress weaning methods are recommended.

• Average weaning age must be eight months.

• Hot or freeze branding is prohibited.

• Continuous outdoor pasture access is required.

• Shelter (including natural shelter) that protects from climatic extremes must be accessible when needed.

• Snares, legholds, and poisons against predators are forbidden. Other lethal control may be used only in the event of an immediate threat; otherwise live trapping is required.

• Electric or hot prods are forbidden in handling. Transport must not exceed eight hours.

• Written records must be kept to document adherence to standards. Cattle must be marked with unique identifiers for their entire life.

American Grassfed Association certification

In this scenario, the ranch must be certified as meeting American Grassfed Association standards. The primary requirement is that all cattle feed on forage (fresh or harvested) their entire life. Additionally, they must have continual access to the outdoors and never receive antibiotics or hormones (treated animals are removed from the program).

Cattle in the program must be marked with unique identifiers for their entire life, and excellent record-keeping is required. Certification costs $200, plus $1 per animal sold per year.

Reaction among beef producers

In his quest for a PhD in livestock raising and management at Colorado State University, Jablonski is trying to find the best policy that will drive demand for grass-fed beef to feed Coloradans. During a Feb. 27 meeting at the CSU Extension Office in Craig, Jablonski told a room of about 10 small to mid-size cattle ranchers their input is valuable.

“You guys have a pretty important voice in all this,” Jablonski said

Most of the cattle ranchers in the room were amenable to the three scenarios, but had reservations about some of the requirements — namely, a prohibition on cattle branding and a total ban on electric cattle prods.

“The branding will be a hard one just because that’s ownership and prevention of theft,” said Chad Green, president of the Moffat County Cattleman’s Association and a cattle and sheep rancher. “That’s one of the best forms. They’ve tried other forms. An ear tag is great, but it can be taken out. The branding, especially in this type of country, that would be tough.”

Green said he and other cattle ranchers already practice many of the requirements in the three scenarios, adding he is confident language banning electric cattle prods and other issues can be ironed out and negotiated.

“If anyone is willing to negotiate, I think those could be hammered out,” Green said. “I really don’t think any of those were too unrealistic.”

Green said the hardest part would be implementing the animal welfare portion of the scenarios.

“It would really require a lot more paperwork,” Green said. “There’d be a lot of third-party audits and that type stuff. I think that one would be the hardest to implement.”

Green’s wife, Kacey Green, attended Jablonski’s CSU Extension meeting. She said animal welfare is important to them.

“It’s not just about the bottom line,” Kacey Green said. “We emotionally care for our animals, as well.”

Justin Duzik was perhaps the youngest rancher at the CSU Extension Feb. 27. He said their small herd of cattle is never mistreated.

“Animal welfare is a big thing,” Duzik said. “We’ve all seen videos of the old milk cows getting pushed around with a fork lift. That’s a terrible thing. It really is. There probably isn’t one of us here who would treat an animal that way.”

Many in the room stressed the need for education and were thankful for the opportunity to contribute to Jablonski’s survey.

“We appreciate the chance to get involved,” said Ramona Green. “Education is just so big. People don’t get it. They just think their food comes from the grocery store.”

It is not known when Denver’s program could be implemented, but Green said it could take years to develop a herd for Denver’s specific needs.

In the meantime, Green said if Northwest Colorado ranchers and Front Range residents work together, it’s possible to move the plan from the drawing board to reality.

“It’s just like any negotiation,” Green said. “If both sides are truly invested in making it happen, we should be able to compromise and come up with a solution, if it’s truly something both sides want to do. It’s my understanding this is all just a draft.”

Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or

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