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Audit says NDSU flock mismanaged

A lack of oversight at North Dakota State University is largely to blame for poor management of its sheep farm, a state audit shows. In the absence of written policies and internal controls, the sheep farm's manager, Wes Limesand, has kept in...

A lack of oversight at North Dakota State University is largely to blame for poor management of its sheep farm, a state audit shows.

In the absence of written policies and internal controls, the sheep farm's manager, Wes Limesand, has kept inadequate animal inventory records and commingled his sheep with state-owned sheep, a practice that created a health risk within the state's flock, according to an 18-page state audit released Tuesday.

A lack of internal controls at NDSU also resulted in misuse of state property, according to the state audit.

"There is a question as to whether the state provided feed, pasture, shelter and veterinarian services to these private animals," Paul Steussy, a state auditor, wrote in the report.

Private use of public property is a violation of state law and university policy, the audit said.

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Limesand could not be reached for comment Tuesday

An NDSU auditor and later state auditors began looking into the sheep farm's management after the university's flock of about 1,500 sheep were identified in early March as a source of scrapie, a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of sheep and goats.

There is no evidence the disease affects humans.

State animal health officials quarantined the flock March 11.

Patricia Jensen, NDSU vice president, dean and director of agricultural affairs, placed Limesand on paid administrative leave about two weeks after the flock was quarantined.

NDSU officials are wading through the state audit and are considering Limesand's future with the university. A decision could be reached "within a matter of days," Jensen said.

The state audit, however, focuses more on the university's policies and internal controls than on any employee.

"The lack of written policies has allowed this activity to exist for many years and has resulted in certain individuals receiving the 'privilege' of using state property for personal use," Steussy wrote in the audit.

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The audit recommends that NDSU prohibit employees from keeping private livestock on state-owned farms. For exceptions, such as breeding purposes, contracts should be drawn up to better regulate commingling of state and private animals.

NDSU also should beef up its inventory reporting policies and strengthen its conflict of interest policy to require complete employee disclosure of any potential public/private business conflicts, the audit said.

"We agreed with the findings and recommendations for the most part and do intend to follow them," Jensen said.

"We'll also make all of these rules and policies applicable to the stations around the state," she said. "It will be a uniform policy."

NDSU officials have set up committees within the university's Department of Animal and Range Science to help implement new safeguards, Jensen said.

NDSU Auditor Jean Ostrom-Blonigen reported the first concerns with the farm's management about four days after the university's sheep were quarantined.

Ostrom-Blonigen reported that Limesand used a state-owned trailer to transport his sheep, about 50 head, from the NDSU farm to a private pasture, just days before the university's flock was quarantined.

The university auditor said Limesand told her there were sheep in a barn. But after her audit was complete "personal sheep were removed from the barn and transported to a personal pasture north of Moorhead."

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Ostrom-Blonigen said he left the farm without being able to get an accurate count of sheep.

NDSU President Joseph Chapman then asked the state auditor's office to audit the farm.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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