Chief Veterinary Officers from East African nations visit
Harney and Malheur counties
By Kathy LeaMaster
“This could be Africa. This looks very much like Tanzania,
but it would not be so cold!” The big green bus pulled to the side of the road
near Eastern Oregon’s Alvord Lake on a chilly March day and visitors from
Africa lined up for photos in a landscape that was reminiscent of home.
Clark’s vision: This trip would be different
This spring, 13 Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs) and
National Epidemiologists representing East African nations visited the Pacific
Northwest and Texas to learn about US methods of livestock identification and
animal disease control. The veterinary tour was sponsored by a partnership of
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Norman
Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University,
and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
Dr. Andrew Clark, Pendleton resident and former Oregon State
Veterinarian, coordinated the Oregon portion of the trip. Clark has worked with
the USAID in East Africa since his retirement from the Oregon Department of
Agriculture (ODA). Part of his mission in Africa is to provide assistance to
top veterinary officers from member states of the Eastern Africa Region as they
develop and implement regional strategies for livestock identification and
animal disease control.
“There are a lot of livestock in Africa. These people
represent the disease control of about 350 million head of livestock—cattle,
camels, sheep, and goats. That is almost twice the total livestock population
of the United States. We’re talking about people with very sophisticated
disease control experience, very sophisticated laboratories, and some viciously
virulent diseases that we have never had here—and heaven help us, we don’t
want!” —Andrew Clark, USAID/EA
The successful US animal disease control model relies on the
coordinated efforts of federal and state regulators, private veterinary
practitioners, and farmers and ranchers to develop, implement, and enforce
standard methods and rules for animal care and movement. As a former State
Veterinarian, Dr. Clark understands the importance of this working partnership
and wants his colleagues from Africa to experience it first-hand.
Visits to the US for high-level officials like these might
typically include a stop in Washington DC to meet with top-level USDA
regulators and then perhaps a tour of our national veterinary laboratory, but
seldom would they include travel to the livestock-producing areas to meet the
people who make the whole system work. This trip would be different. Tour
participants were introduced to the real ranching experience and learned how
ranchers, practicing veterinarians, laboratories, universities, producer
organizations, marketers, and regulators all work together to protect animal
health, support the livestock industry, and ensure a safe food supply. The goal
of this trip was to demonstrate the coordination and cooperation among all the
diverse components of the American livestock health system so the CVOs could
take home ideas to strengthen their own programs.
Introducing the partners
The journey began in Washington with a visit to the
USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services Office in Olympia. Participants learned about
the federal regulatory program from Dr. John Huntley, Area Veterinarian in
From there, the group moved to Portland for a meeting with
Jim Krahn, Executive Director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, who
spoke about the role of producer organizations in regulatory animal disease
Then it was on to the Agriculture Building in Salem, where
they met with the ODA Director, the State Veterinarian, and others involved in
state animal health, livestock identification, and food safety programs. They
had a presentation from Glenn Kolb of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association
(OVMA). While in the area, they visited the Woodburn Livestock Auction to
observe identification and marketing of livestock, and toured the facilities of
Dr. Tom Keck, a private practice veterinarian in Dallas.
The next day included a visit to Oregon State University’s
College of Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to
round-out the information-packed couple of days. This valuable introduction
allowed the African visitors to meet the partners, hear their perspectives, and
gain an understanding of the animal health system in our state. This background
provided perspective and set the stage for discussion as the tour bus left for
First stop: Burns
After a quick stop at the Big R Farm and Ranch Supply Store,
the group toured the ranch of Louie and Melodi Molt. They were then treated to
a barbecue dinner hosted by the Harney County Cattlewomen’s Association. Curtis
Martin, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association president, addressed the attendees.
“What I want to emphasize is how great a benefit we in
modern animal agriculture have because of the history of the working
relationship between producers, scientists, and doctors of the veterinary
field. And how great of a system we enjoy here in America, especially in
Oregon. I think we have something that’s very enviable; that works very well.
We have a highly intricate, perishable product, and I think that all of us as
producers need to realize that it’s something to guard, protect, and
promote—the working relationship between producers and the government agencies
that help with food safety and quality. We take it for granted much too often.”
— Curtis Martin, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President
Roaring Springs Ranch
An early morning drive down the Frenchglen Highway brought
the tour group to picturesque Roaring Springs Ranch in time for a home-cooked
ranch breakfast in the cook-shack. Ranch Manager Stacy Davies spoke to the
group about the economics of ranching in Oregon. Visitors were especially
interested in the management strategy that allows for 100 acres of land per
animal. With a vast area of land available, the ranch provides year-round
grazing. By moving cattle regularly, Davies (who jokes about really being a
grass farmer) is able to keep plenty of grass growing, as each acre is only
grazed about two weeks out of the year.
Julie Weikel, retired ODA veterinarian, has worked with
Eastern Oregon ranchers for years. As the tour’s veterinary consultant, Weikel
helped arrange for the ranch visits and worked with the ranch managers to
provide instructional demonstrations of Oregon animal disease control and
identification procedures. At Roaring Springs, she led a demonstration of
cattle vaccination and ear tattoo application and interpretation.
When female bovine breeding stock are vaccinated for
Brucellosis, they receive a special metal eartag and tattoo in the right ear as
proof of vaccination. Eartags can fall out over time, but a good tattoo remains
for the life of the cow. However, if a tattoo is not made properly, it can fade
and become unreadable. An animal with an illegible Brucellosis tattoo does not
qualify for interstate movement, which has a direct negative effect on its
market value. This is why a good tattoo is very important to a rancher.
Visiting CVOs witnessed a spontaneous on-the-ground
problem-solving discussion between rancher, veterinarian, and regulator as
Davies, Weikel, and State Veterinarian Brad LeaMaster talked about failed
tattoos and possible identification improvements. While this kind of discussion
seems appropriate and logical to us, it was unexpected from the perspective of
the visiting vets. This kind of partnership is not common in East African
countries. Many of the visitors spoke of being responsible for development of
animal health regulations and strategies without any participation from the
producer. And without buy-in from the producer, disease control strategies are
difficult to implement.
Roaring Springs is a for-profit ranch. Davies is a keen
businessman with intense knowledge and understanding of the cattle industry.
His focus is on management for profit. But, as he squints into the morning sun
and noisy geese fly overhead, it is clear that profit isn’t his only motive.
“We do live at the end of the road for a reason. We like to
be alone. We’ve had opportunities to develop—to have recreational business. We
could have a lot of people here all the time, sharing the beauty, and we’ve
chosen to not do that …We’ve chosen not to do a lot of things that would make
more money, because we like our privacy. We like the wildlife—and wildlife’s
important to us. We manage for wildlife, clean water, clean air, and open
space. It’s equal, in our mission, to profit—a healthy ecosystem and peace and
quiet.” —Stacy Davies, ranch manager
Border collies-a-plenty greeted the bus at the Alvord Ranch.
Ranch Manager Paul Davis spoke about the unique aspects of ranching in Oregon’s
high desert. He gestured with his right hand to the mountains where cattle
spend the summer, then with his left hand to the miles of open land where they
spend the winter. His cattle spend their lives on the range in some pretty
“It takes a special cow to exist out there, compared to a cow
you feed hay to all the time. It’s survival of the fittest here.” —Paul Davis,
In fact, it is the adaptation to this tough environment that
Davis feels gives his cows a longer productive life span. He says that as long
as cows are producing healthy calves, they have a home on his ranch.
Davis uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on his
cows for an electronic herd records program, managed by his daughter Elizabeth.
Over time, Davis will be able to learn more about any individual animal,
particularly her age and production.
The Eastern Oregon town of Jordan Valley was home to the
veterinarians for their last day on the Oregon tour.
Bob and Karen Skinner hosted the group for a tour of their
animal handling facilities. Bob Skinner, rancher and former President of the
Oregon Cattlemen Association, has represented the cattle industry at both state
and federal levels. He understands the difficulty in crafting legislation to
regulate a widely diverse industry.
“The livestock industry is so diverse, even in the state of
Oregon. There is so much difference in the way they do business on the westside
and the way we do business here in the high desert. We’re at a little over
4,000 feet high here—good cattle country—but it’s a totally different climate
and we have to run a different operation. So when you move into the eastern and
southern part of the United States—those people have a very different operation
than we have. And it’s hard when they start writing legislation and putting
laws in place at the national level that affect all of us—it’s really hard to
get something that works for everybody. …We have to work with our people at the
federal level and at the state level to get something we can live with so we
can continue on in business. …A lot of people in my business don’t participate
in the process. If you don’t participate in the process, you’re going to get
what they give you.” —Bob Skinner, rancher
Skinner spoke about his efforts to raise top-quality cattle
for the high-end natural beef niche market. He described video auctions,
quality ratings, and producer guarantees that all help to build a rancher’s
reputation, strengthen his position in the market, and subsequently bring a
higher price for his cattle.
Ranching is obviously more than a business to Skinner; it is
a way of life.
“My family started here in 1863. I’m the fifth generation,
and there’s the sixth, and there’s the seventh (pointing to his children and
grandchildren). This is what we really like and what we really want to do. All
of us are ranchers.” —Bob Skinner, rancher
Last stop: The Hanley Ranch
The last stop on the tour included a trip to the “Old West.”
Rancher and historian Mike Hanley made the last stop of the tour a memorable
one with a colorful history lesson about the development of livestock
production in the western United States.
Hanley and his ranch team demonstrated roping, castrating,
branding, and vaccinating of spring calves. Then he pulled out the vintage
stagecoach with a four-horse team and proceeded to give once-in-a-lifetime stagecoach
rides to everyone on the tour.
The experience was complete with a trail lunch of stew and
beans served from the last chuck wagon used in the Jordan Valley area.
Before riding off into the sunset, participants talked about
Oregon’s State Veterinarian Brad LeaMaster summarized the
“It was wonderful to be able to participate in this tour.
The experience brings to mind a couple of points—those being, the importance of
perspective and partnerships. Perspective is important because in our very busy
day-to-day activities it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Our daily
focus is largely local. This visit certainly emphasizes the fact that what we
do here may have an impact on the other side of the world. Partnerships are
important, as they are the catalysts that allow those of us with regulatory
responsibilities to work efficiently with the producers, markets, and other
segments of the livestock production complex. We are blessed to have an open,
hospitable, and professional working relationship with our livestock producers
in this state. Successful partnerships just don’t happen by themselves…they are
built on trust and good communication. I hope some of our examples here in
Oregon will be useful to our East African colleagues.”
Some of the tour participants had been to the United States
before, multiple times, and as the tour wound its way through the farms and
ranches of Oregon and later through Texas, they could be heard commenting, “Now
we are seeing the REAL America!”
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“I have learned at least three things: The level of organization—the
way your livestock industry is organized. From the producer, the regulator, and
the private sector—this is what I like to describe as a “smart partnership;”
whereby, each of the three knows his or her responsibility.
And I’m very much impressed by the level of awareness among
the producers. When it comes to regulations, your producers are highly aware of
regulations and enforcement.
And farmers groups, the way they send a message up to
regulators—this is what we want to do in the industry. And regulators listen.
This relationship is something we need to copy from you.”
—Frederick Kivaria, National Veterinary Epidemiologist, Tanzania.
“I realize that we have been fed on textbook matter too
much. You get books describing what exactly is not on the ground. We have been
around and we have seen where the textbook knowledge is applicable and where it
is not applicable. Conditions vary quite a lot and there is no single book that
will tell us all this.” —Nicholas Kauta, Chief Veterinary Officer, Uganda
“Many lessons I am taking back home—like how consultation
takes place between the government and the producers–and how producers are
organized so they can make their case in policy formulation and development by
I’ve also seen how it is important for families to really
take care of the ranch operations by inducing the different generations into
it. We saw so many family-based operations. That is very impressive.” —John
Lefuk, South Sudan