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After strong year in ag, rising costs and new legislation cause concern for area cattlemen

Wally Patcheck named Cattleman of the Year at annual banquet
The La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association held its annual banquet Saturday at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio. The state of the Colorado cattle industry was discussed and lifelong rancher Wally Patcheck was named Cattleman of the Year. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press file)

IGNACIO – 2023 ended up being a relatively strong year for agriculture and ranching, but nonetheless, the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division is facing challenges going forward.

Inflation and rising costs of fuel and vehicles may necessitate the increase of livestock inspection and licensing fees, State Brand Commissioner Todd Inglee, who was freshly appointed in January, said on Saturday.

The Brand Inspection Division plans to hold community dialogues with cattlemen across Colorado’s 10 brand inspection districts to find ways to mitigate increased fees and to find alternative ways to bolster the division’s revenues.

The division’s revenues typically come in about $1 million below expenses, but as of 2021, expenses have taken a sharp upward trajectory, according to data presented by Inglee.

Inglee appeared at the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association’s annual banquet at the Sky Ute Casino, where he and hundreds of ranchers and state and local officials such as Sen. Cleave Simpson and La Plata County commissioners Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Salka gathered to reflect on the state of the cattle industry.

The Brand Inspection Division is also grappling with wage disparities between seasoned inspectors and people new to the field. Besides cost of living increases, inspectors don’t typically receive pay raises, Inglee said.

The state is implementing a step-pay system to ensure people who have been with the division longer will earn greater wages, but “what’s scary is by doing that, it’s going to add onto our expenses just under $700,000 a year,” he said.

“It puts us in a little bit of a bind,” he added. “We have not raised fees since 2016. It’s probably time that we have to bump these fees up so we can cover some of these costs.”

Inglee said the Brand Inspection Division inspected over 4.3 million cattle head and researched, recorded and administered over 30,000 Colorado brands across the state in 2023.

Likewise, reports of missing or stolen cattle soared in 2022 and 2023 compared to previous years. Inglee said the Brand Inspection Division had 61 cases last year and 85 cases in 2022. Fewer cattle were in Colorado last year, which drove up the value of the animals and led to an increase in missing or stolen reports.

He said the division plans to work more closely with district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices around the state to assist investigations and prosecute offenders of cattle theft to the full extent of the law. Some brand inspectors could become investigators to deliver cases packaged and topped with “pretty bows” to district attorneys to ease investigations.

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President Robert Farnam commended state Democratic Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Republican Sen. Simpson for keeping agriculture “off the menu” in 2023 and said there’s been nothing “that’s really harmed agriculture this past year.”

Cattlemen, Colorado lawmakers and icons from La Plata and Archuleta counties gathered Saturday at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio for the area Cattlemen’s Association’s annual banquet. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

He said it’s good for agriculture when the government moves slowly because there are fewer hoops to jump through and less new legislation to try to navigate.

But there are some legislative items that are cause for concern.

He said a slaughter ban that could ban slaughterhouses and fur sales that will be on Denver’s 2024 November ballot would, if passed, give the industry a “black eye” and hurt the state’s cattle industry’s reputation nationwide.

And ballot initiative proposal 91, which would ban the hunting of big cats, such as mountain lions and lynxes, would harm ranchers’ and hunters’ ability to perform predator control. Farnam said the big cats proposal, similar to legislation for the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado, is bad for ag.

Wayne Jefferies, president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association, shared similar concerns as Farnam and Inglee for the cattle industry in an interview Saturday.

He agreed agriculture has been good lately, but increased costs are a real concern. He’s also worried about outside interests, such as proponents of the big cat proposal, butting into cattle business.

“We have people who are not involved that are trying to push their interests,” he said. “It’s an interesting deal. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of involvement. A lot of families are involved in all these operations. … We face increased taxes. We face increased regulations every time we turn around. So it makes it hard.”

He said the cattle industry is blamed for greenhouse gas emissions when it’s far outweighed by larger, more significant causes for emissions.

“There are far greater emitters than the livestock industry. The wetlands that some of these people want to protect probably are a bigger emitter of methane than the livestock industry,” he said.

On a more optimistic note, Farnam said the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association will finally be moving into the historic Livestock Exchange Building complex on the National Western Stock Show grounds in Denver in January 2026. Construction is slated to start in the next six to seven months.

The state of the industry was a large focus of the banquet, but there was plenty of time for fun and games. The Cowbelles had their annual quilt raffle and auction and successfully auctioned a quilt for $4,800.

Items such as chain saws, power drills, ratchet tie-downs, grilling sets and cooking utensils were on display for a silent auction that attracted participants throughout the evening.

Lifelong cattle rancher Wally Patcheck was recognized as the 2024 Cattleman of the Year. Saturday also marked Wally and his wife Karen Patcheck’s 50th wedding anniversary.


Wally Patcheck was recognized as the Cattleman of the Year on Saturday at the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association’s annual banquet at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

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