Donley Darnell

Newcastle, WY

Donley Darnell

Donley Darnell and his wife Nancy are the third generation to run D&W Livestock, an extensive range operation in Northeast Wyoming. Nancy's grandfather bought the ranch in 1947 and Donley and Nancy moved there when they were married in 1971. D&W Livestock has a strong future: the fourth generation, Donley and Nancy's nephew, is a partner in the business and his children may grow up to be the ranch's fifth generation.

D&W Livestock is a cow-calf operation that includes about 1,000 head of Gelvey and Charolais cattle. The cattle graze on over 130,000 acres--a combination of deeded land, and public and private leased land. Donley spoke with Farm Aid after another night of calving, resulting in 10 new calves. In the fall, these calves will go to a custom feedlot for finishing and then they will become USDA inspected premium beef for export.

In addition to ranching, Donley is the chairman of the agriculture committee of Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Farm Aid-funded grassroots organization of farmers, ranchers and conservationists in Wyoming. In his role as chairman, Donley has become quite familiar with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a proposed tracking system for livestock in the U.S. that may have a tremendous impact on our farmers and ranchers.

According to the USDA, NAIS will protect the health of U.S. livestock and poultry and the economic well-being of those industries by providing a quick and effective trace-back system that can track an animal disease to its source. It entails a three-step process that calls for every person who owns livestock or poultry to register their premises (or property), tag each of their animals, and report any movement off the premises to a database within 24 hours. Tagged animals include cows, chickens, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas, elk, deer, bison, and turkeys, regardless of whether or not they are intended as a food source (personal or commercial). In other words, yes, even pets will have to be tagged. Group or lot identification would be allowed only where animals are managed as a group from birth to death and never commingled with animals outside of their production system. In practice, group identification would apply mainly, if not entirely, to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and vertically integrated operations—providing a significant savings to industrial farms.

NAIS was introduced by the USDA in 2005 as a voluntary program with the goal to make it mandatory by 2009. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is currently holding listening sessions across the country as he pushes for a mandatory rule for program implementation, but he's encountering much opposition and the dialogue is sure to be lively.

As a full-time rancher whose livelihood depends on his cattle, Donley worries about what a mandatory NAIS program will cost him. USDA estimates have ranged from $3 to $20 per animal but, as is the case with all aspects of this program, details have been hard to come by. It is quite clear, however, that the cost to tag each animal will be prohibitive to many family farmers and ranchers.

Beyond the cost, Donley also questions the necessity of NAIS, which he says "appears to be a solution looking for a problem." As he explains, there are already effective programs that track livestock animals and control and eradicate common livestock diseases like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy(more commonly known as mad cow disease), brucellosis, tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, and others. The proposed NAIS program doesn't improve upon these programs, which the USDA has acknowledged have been highly effective. As Donley explains, "No one really knows what this NAIS program would look like--we haven't heard the details. Will NAIS replace these other disease programs or will NAIS be in addition to those?"

Donley also sees NAIS as a threat to farmers producing for the export market. Donley takes voluntary steps to age- and source-verify his cattle, which means he receives a higher price per head because they meet the strict requirements of the export market. Under NAIS, all cattle born in the U.S. would officially be verified as having a U.S. origin, and meatpackers would no longer have to pay a premium to U.S. cattle producers (although they would take their own premium from the export market).

Since NAIS has been proposed as a food safety program, one might think it is the answer to outbreaks of food-related illnesses such as Salmonella, in which contamination occurs off the farm during processing. But, as Donley points out, NAIS does nothing to stop or track contamination during processing. In fact, the NAIS traceability ends once the animal enters the slaughterhouse, which means if you obtain a food-borne illness from eating a hamburger, NAIS does not provide any traceability whatsoever.

Donley points out that if the USDA really wanted to protect the food supply, they would allow cattle producers to test their cattle for mad cow disease and they would more closely monitor cattle imports to ensure the health of cattle entering the U.S. The livelihood of ranchers depends on the health of their herds. They want to ensure the health of their animals and the safety of the food supply. But NAIS does neither of those things and threatens to drive small farmers and ranchers out of business.

You can weigh in on this issue and protect our family farmers and ranchers! Please send your comments about the proposed NAIS to

Donley Darnell 2

Date: 4/23/2009

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Anonymous @ 5/17/2009 5:40:54 AM 
NAIS would subject veterans who raise even a backyard flock of chickens to more government surveillance than illegal aliens, terrorists, and child molesters. If you support our veterans, you should be outraged.

Mike Murphy
Anonymous @ 4/26/2009 6:29:56 AM 
Thank you, the more people who weigh in on this the better. One thing people never mention in regards to NAIS is their insistance the we will no longer be referred to as "Lsndowner" but as "Stakeholders" These two terms have entirely different deffinitions under the law. Also making your animal part of the "National HERD"
Anonymous @ 4/25/2009 7:04:58 PM 
NAIS will cause many 4-H families and homesteaders like us to have to give up our animals. The cost for this unecessary program will be too high. It would be much better to secure our borders from wandering unhealthy livestock. My animals do not belong to some
'national herd', they are my private property. My land is not a premises and I will not allow any government to put their ID number on it. SAYNO2NAIS
Anonymous @ 4/25/2009 5:15:51 PM 
At last our voices are being heard. If Mr Vilsack and the powers that be in Washington and at the UN have their way there will not be any family farms left. NAIS is expensive, unnecessary and invasive. Please contact your congressmen and women and tell them to stop funding for National Animal Identification.
Anonymous @ 4/25/2009 5:26:36 AM 
Thanks to FarmAid for posting this article. More people need to be made aware that NAIS is corporate welfare and will harm small farms. In the 2006 User Guide, USDA admits it is not a food safety plan, and former Ag Sec'y Bruce Knight was quoted as saying USDA wants NAIS in order to be compliant with OIE regulations by 2010. Under NAIS, our borders will be opened to trade with countries we won't trade with now because they have diseases we either never had or have already eradicated or controlled. NAIS will open Pandora's box and will be as effective as Prohibition was. NAIS needs to be stopped.
Anonymous @ 4/24/2009 5:32:58 PM 
THANK YOU for posting this article!!
USDA Secretary Vilsack says he wants to hear the concerns of the small farmer.
He did hold a round table discussion on this issue on April 15th but as with the March 11th Congressional hearings on NAIS, the deck was stacked with organizations who favor a mandatory NAIS (despite what their members want).
There are supposed to be meetings held across the country to allow him to hear the concerns of farmers. Please check the USDA - APHIS website regularly: and watch for a meeting in your area.
Karen Nowak, Brookfield, New York
Anonymous @ 4/24/2009 2:49:29 PM 
I appreciate this article and Mr. Darnell’s voice on this important NAIS issue. Small farmers all across the country are desperate to have their voices heard. Many livestock owners are members of associations that have refused to give their members a voice or a vote concerning NAIS. Yet, these associations have testified before Congress and AgSec supporting this NAIS program.
We introduced a State NAIS legislation to define voluntary as meaning with the consent of the animal/property owner. The State and Cattlemen’s testified opposing and rejecting this voluntary language in our NAIS legislation. In a phone interview with the State’s Farm Bureau said that in no way would our legislation pass because they could not support it. We have turned to the media and they only report what the State and these associations have to say.
NAIS is only an enhanced version of the Quality System Assessment (QSA) program for foreign market tra
Anonymous @ 4/24/2009 9:12:30 AM 
Thank you for covering this issue. As a small livestock owner in Illinois, we have been "tilting at windmills" to get this issue covered. We do have a Resolution against NAIS in our state: If one resides in Illinois, simply call your State Legislative Critter and ask for SR 0127 to be 1) Co-Sponsored 2) Called for a Floor Vote 3) Forward copies of the Legislation to your Federal Congress Critter and let them know it is on the way. In many state there is current legislation either in effect, waiting for a vote, or pending introduction. Find out what is happening in your state and take action. Until we (livestock owners not Stakeholders) insist on our retaining our God Given Rights, we will surely lose them. Again Thanks to FarmAid, Mrs. Michael Sabo Prairie Du Rocher, Illinois
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