Sublette County, Wyoming is approximately 4,936 sq. miles, in scenic western Wyoming. Sublette County is surrounded by three mountain ranges: the Wind Rivers, the Wyoming Range, and the Gros Ventre. The area offers excellent elk and antelope hunting, with exceptional fly-fishing opportunities in the Green and Wind Rivers. Additional opportunities range from snowmobiling and skiing, to fine dining and glamping in Pinedale, the county seat. Sublette County cattle and small ruminant ranching operations are traditional western, and include a mix of land under either federal or state ownership. Common grazing allotments are available for many producers within the county. There are approximately 400 ranches raising 57K cattle/calves, as of 2017. The entirety of Sublette County is inside Wyoming's Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area (DSA). Wyoming requires intense brucellosis surveillance for cattle residing within the DSA, and upon change of ownership either within or upon transiting the DSA. Food animal veterinarians must provide herd health plans and owner education/outreach for infections, contagious, and/or communicable diseases, supported by the constant interaction between livestock and wildlife within our grazing areas. There are additional opportunities for small ruminant and equine work. There is demand for additional veterinary capability in the county, as some veterinarians travel from as far as two and a half hours away to service local ranches.
Sublette County has strong opportunities for outstanding veterinary entrepreneurship. Potential exists for herd health consultation, production management, embryo transfer, and artificial insemination. Species include beef cattle, small ruminants, and equine. The average cow herd is 200-300 head, with a few in the 6-800 range, with additional backyard livestock enterprises. Spring is busy with obstetrical work, although over time calving season has lengthened, extending from mid-January to mid-June. Food animal surgeries include c-sections, urethrotomies/-ostomies, eye enucleations, claw removal, castration, dehorning, abscess treatment, trauma treatment, and lumpectomies. There are a large number of cow/calf producers in the county, as well as a large area for backgrounding yearling cattle. Additionally, a strong desire exists within the rural communities for veterinary mentorship regarding livestock management, outreach, and production. Additional mentorship opportunities include numerous livestock events, including 4-H and FFA. Interaction with state and federal veterinarians occurs regularly due to brucellosis surveillance. Tremendous potential also exists for collaboration with federal and state wildlife officials regarding the livestock - wildlife interface. Producer outreach in conjunction with extension also occurs on a regular basis.
Current veterinarians in the area are aging and retiring faster than new veterinarians are hired. Due to the elevated risk of brucellosis within Wyoming's Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area, cattle herd surveillance is of utmost importance for Wyoming's livestock producers. Recruiting associate veterinarians is challenging due to increased debt and a smaller pool of interested candidates. Wyoming does not currently have a state funded student loan repayment program. Competing with states who have a loan repayment program is difficult, thus Wyoming's need for VMLRP. Because of our low population, the number of home-grown candidates tends to be small in number.
Wyoming must address this veterinary shortage to ensure a safe food supply, specifically for beef cattle in or transiting Wyoming's Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area (DSA), encompassing all of Sublette County. Due to the elevated risk of brucellosis within Wyoming's cattle herd, over 83,000 cattle are tested annually. Without the required testing, surrounding states may be unwilling to accept Wyoming origin cattle. Wyoming's #3 business is agriculture, and Sublette County is a strong representative of Wyoming's traditional ranch culture. In-person veterinary care is needed to mitigate increased risk to public health threats such as emerging diseases and drug residue exposure. We continue to lose more food animal veterinarians annually than we are able to hire. Without access to veterinarians, our producers are unable to test their cattle in a timely manner, resulting in economic loss. Food animal veterinarians are needed for continually increasing regulations regarding veterinary feed directives and antibiotic usage, along with the continued demand for organic, grass-fed beef and niche marketing, difficult with the harsh winters we receive. Increasing interaction between livestock and wildlife due to changing land use continues to present challenges for Wyoming producers. Food animal veterinarians are ideally poised to offer education and outreach, along with specifically designed herd health plans, to keep our producers economically viable. The Wyoming Livestock Board is in the process of developing an animal disease traceability program, and recruiting private practitioner input. Our food animal veterinarians are paramount for success of this program, especially with their highly valued, practical input.