Miles City, Mont., poised to fight for Fort Keough ag lab
MILES CITY, Mont. -- The cattle industry and community leaders are hoping to have a say in whether U.S. Department of Agriculture research laboratories are closed this fall, after budget cuts were released by President Donald Trump's administrati...
MILES CITY, Mont. - The cattle industry and community leaders are hoping to have a say in whether U.S. Department of Agriculture research laboratories are closed this fall, after budget cuts were released by President Donald Trump's administration in late May.
The USDA's Agricultural Research Service announced numerous cuts, including 17 ARS labs. Those include three labs in Agweek country - at Brookings, S.D., Morris, Minn., and Miles City, Mont.
The Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory at Miles City is a collaboration between the ARS and the Montana Experiment Station, which owns the cattle herd. The station has about 40 employees, including seven federal scientists - two nutritionists, two reproductive physiologists and three range scientists.
USDA officials at the Ft. Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory declined comment about what has happened since budget cuts and closings were announced in Washington, D.C., in late May.
William E. Almy, a Miles City, a retired cattlemen and owner of Keystone Ranches, Inc., at Ismay, Mont., is a senior member of a "focus group," which advises the station. Almy, 90, says his association with the lab goes back into the 1950s when he bought a bull from the lab.
"I've taken various thoughts they've proposed over the years and put them to work on our ranch," he says.
Almy in June wrote to about 20 colleagues on the focus group, asking them to write or call a collection of federal and political figures.
"The more people, the more ways, the better off we'll be," Almy said, admitting he had no indication of any effect. "I would think it's 50-50 it's not going to be closed."
Almy said a closure would have a big impact because the budget includes about $3 million in federal funds and about $1.5 million in state funds.
The Fort Keogh station is historic beyond its research prowess. It was built on the site of a military fort that was created after the Little Bighorn battle in 1876. The army sent a cavalry encampment to where the Tongue River goes into the Yellowstone River. The fort squared off 10 miles to the west and to the south from that point. In 1924, the fort became a federal research station.
About half of the employees work for the federal government and half work for the state government.
John Laney, executive director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the normal procedure is to "put pressure on the powers that be," after announcements like this. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., questioned Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a recent hearing.
"I saw it on the internet; I thought it was pretty positive," Laney said. He said the across-the-board cuts in the budget are "pretty dramatic" and will be scrutinized.
"I think they woke up the sleeping giant," Laney says, noting the laboratories need to be more proactive in telling the community what they do.
The station maintains four cattle herds for different purposes.
There are 140 "Line 1" Hereford cows - a closed herd dating to the late 1920s and early 1930s. Line 1 cows trace to stock purchased in 1924 from George M. Miles of Miles City. The Line 1 herd is now about 30 percent inbred, which is valuable in genetic research. In 2003, researchers in Houston, Texas, who were looking for a cow to sequence the bovine genome selected one cow in the world, and it was a L1 Dominette 01449, a Line 1 Hereford cow from Fort Keogh. That cow was the subject of millions of dollars in research from around the world for sequencing the genes.
The station also has a 400-cow herd for physiology studies, as well as 100 replacements - predominantly Hereford-Angus cross cows. Separately, they have a 100-head Composite Gene Combination cow herd, a "closed" herd since the 1980s, used for nutrition and efficiency studies. The station has started a small Angus herd to cross Line 1 Herefords with Angus for research on weaning rates and better fertility.