Oneida County’s reluctant goodbye to UI Extension’s Rauhn Panting

Rauhn PantingMALAD, Idaho--How embedded and important University of Idaho Extension educators are in the counties where they live and work is well illustrated by at least one local response to the retirement this week of Rauhn Panting, who has spent 35 years helping to improve the lives of Oneida County’s families and the area’s economy.

“We’re really going to miss him,” said Oneida County Commissioner Max Firth, who moved to Malad soon after Panting did. Panting, “has gone the second mile over and over again. When problems come up, he brings the University of Idaho’s resources to help us. His attitude is an inspiration. He never complains. He’s been a tremendous asset to our county,” said Firth during a Monday interview.

Since working for UI Extension In Oneida—the second county created by the Idaho Territory in 1864—Panting has raised his family of four children and helped many of the county’s 4,000 residents—most of them living in Malad—by solving a host of problems. And he has brought confidence, expertise, and lifeskills to two generations of the county’s children by running 4-H leadership programs that year after year boast among the highest percentages of youth participants per capita in 4-H programs of any Gem State county.

As for economic impact, Firth recalled Panting’s help in the 1980s, “when too many calves were dying—scary for a county with some 17,000 cattle and 463 farms.” In 2007, Firth says cattle sales brought $9 million to the county, meaning cattle are a major contributor to Oneida’s economy.

“Rauhn, in the ’80s, was still fairly new with us, yet he pitched right in,” recalls Firth. Working with five cattle growers worried about their calf-dying problems, Panting organized studies of what went wrong. He and cooperating cattlemen drew and analyzed samples of calves’ blood and their mothers’ colostrum—milk that pregnant bodies create during calving. Colostrum is critical for building immunity in newborn calves. Samples were taken within 24 hours of birth, on the second day, and a week after birth.

“We found cows to be lacking a number of minerals, especially copper, which, therefore, they couldn’t pass on to their calves,” recalled Panting. “If calves don’t get the right minerals in their first 24 hours, their immune systems are compromised and they remain vulnerable to viruses and bacteria that are everywhere. That lack of minerals was one major cause of the deaths.”

Working with University of Idaho scientists in Moscow, Panting and other cattle interests found a solution in the form of mineral packets that UI Extension provided to Idaho cattlemen for their cows year round. Panting also helped cattlemen build small huts near feeding areas to help the young animals better survive harsh winters. Oneida’s calf dying problem ended.

Panting’s 4-H programs drew in 100 to 200 youths each year. Because his interest was livestock judging and best practices in raising livestock, those remain popular and successful projects in the Malad area. Others extension staff and volunteers ran county crafts and home economics projects. “Both boys and girls participate in rearing animals,” said Panting. Expertise in livestock judging thanks to 4-H helped propel Panting to college as a young man, and he is convinced judging skills help his 4-H participants build confidence and leadership skills.

“Livestock judging is awesome for teaching youth critical thinking and skills at defending why you make the judgments you do,” Panting said. Youth learn to discern animals with adequate muscling, a good finish (not too much or too little fat on market animals), correct alignment of feet and legs, the best sex characteristics (Do they look like a heifer or bull?) and the right color for each breed.

Because Oneida and neighboring counties including Power, Bannock, Franklin and Cassia in Idaho and Cache and Box Elder in Utah have small populations and small UI Extension staffs, the counties join together to stage day camps for youth to learn about cattle and livestock judging as well as arts and crafts, Dutch oven cooking—another Panting specialty—plus fishing, nature skills, and other topics.

In retirement Panting intends to continue working with 4-H, something he “loves,” and helping in other ways as he can. “Extension has been good to me,” he said. “If you like challenges, a variety of things to do, and helping your community succeed, being an extension educator is a great job.”