Community Agriculture Alliance: Preparing for fall | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Preparing for fall

Patrick Stanko/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

In the Yampa Valley, the changing of the leaves and first frosts signal the time for all agriculture producers to prepare for winter. For the traditional or production agriculturists, this means taking stock of all that the summer has provided and what needs to be done before the ground is frozen and covered with a blanket of snow. 

Before the livestock can be brought home, fences must be able to hold them, water must be available, and feed supplies need to be ready. Every year, ranchers check and double check the hay supplies and verify that they either have enough to supply the numbers of animals they have through at least 200 days of feeding. Because of the drought this year, pasture is short, hay supplies are limited, and buying hay is costly. 

Local ranchers are looking even more carefully at the numbers to determine how many animals to keep while being able to meet their needs and still financially survive. They will be making hard decisions which have the potential to impact their ranch for years to come. Balancing the economics of ranching and the love for the land, animals and way of life remains the challenge for anyone in agriculture.

We all know winter is coming and how important it is to prepare vehicles for cold weather driving. A rancher must also prepare their equipment and entire ranch for winter by checking summer and winter equipment, doing maintenance or ordering parts, before putting summer equipment away and making sure that winter equipment is both accessible and ready to go to work. 

Buildings, corrals and sheds must be assessed and made ready to withstand all that winter brings. Water supplies must be protected and a back up plan made in case of winter loss. And because the rancher has a home and vehicles, they must be sure that those are ready for the winter as well.  No shortage of work to do.

I do not know how the previous generations were able to get everything ready for winter. We sometimes forget how fortunate we are and how comparatively easy our lives have become. The times and technology have had a significant impact on preparing for winter. 

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Two hundred years ago, preparing for winter meant that the humans migrated out of the Yampa Valley, similar to wild animals that migrate for food sources. When humans decided to stay in the valley through the winters, the livestock were driven to lower and more mild weather parts of the country, but barns needed to be filled with hay for the horses and dairy cows that stayed at home. 

The grain planted in the previous fall needed to be harvested, grain bins filled for the chickens, pigs and horses, and a new field of winter wheat needed to be planted for the next fall. A winter supply of wood needed to be chopped and stacked.  Meat and vegetables needed to be cured, canned and stored. 

There was no supermarket, and no thermostat could not be turned for heat or cooking. To say that life was difficult is an understatement. I would venture to guess that most of us today would struggle to survive as the homesteaders did many years ago in this area.

If you see your local rancher being very busy this fall, please understand that they are trying to beat the winter clock. Maybe even offer to give them a hand and if you'd like to visit with them over a cup of coffee, December would be a great time.

Patrick Stanko is the agriculture resource coordinator at Community Agriculture Alliance.

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