Cattle branding a muddy affair in 2015, but lush pasture is a blessing
Steamboat Springs — The sudden arrival of daily high temperatures in the 80s this week following record moisture in May is spurring pastures and hay meadows into startlingly rapid growth.
“You can almost listen to it growing,” lower Elk River Rancher Mary Kay Monger said.
CSU Extension Agent Todd Hagenbuch said Thursday that all the signs were good in the autumn of 2014 after above average rain was recorded July through September, but that was before a dry winter arrived on the scene.
“Last fall was fantastic,” Hagenbuch said. “Things were in great shape. Then April came, and I thought, ‘Oh lord, we’re in trouble.’ Then May happened — it was a real blessing. A month ago, I was worried (about drought conditions). I’m not worried any more.”
If ranchers had an issue last month, it was that, for some, corrals were too muddy to allow them to carry out the late-spring ritual of branding calves.
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“Corrals were two feet deep in mud, and the calves were too wet to brand,” Hagenbuch said. “I know some ranchers borrowed their neighbors’ corrals.”
CSU Extension Western Regional Director CJ Mucklow has experienced what it’s like to raise cattle in the Elk River Valley. He said the May weather was challenging, but it was preferable to a drought.
“The range is excellent, even though it’s a little washy,” Mucklow said. “Snowpack doesn’t make good range. If we don’t get rain in May and June, we don’t get good range. The rain was a pain in the neck, but boy, what a blessing.”
One drawback was that some hay meadows began to grow vigorously before they could be harrowed (the equivalent of raking dead grass out of a suburban lawn). But that isn’t a big problem, Mucklow added.
Monger said her family had a good piece of luck; they were able to brand early, then turn the cattle out on early pasture.
“A lot of the pastures were too wet to put cattle out,” she said. “But when we put our cattle out, it was a little cooler, and the grass hadn’t really started growing.”
Drivers commuting between the south valley and Steamboat at the intersection of Colorado Highway 131 and U.S. Highway 40 this week may notice the city’s hayfield (diagonally across the state highway from Haymaker Golf Course) appears already to be maturing. But that’s misleading, Hagenbuch said.
The tall grass hay stems already bearing seedheads are a specific, fast growing species: Garrison creeping meadow foxtail, which prefers wet areas, he explained.
“That doesn’t mean brome and timothy aren’t coming up behind it,” Hagenbuch assured.
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