D2 Ranch: Steamboat Cattle Company strives to preserve heritage
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
Yancey and Leigh Rushton moved to Steamboat Springs in 2012. The Rushton’s had three children in tow and were leaving behind a small farming operation in Alabama.
Initially, the family thought they would try a new way of life and step away from agriculture until their children finished school. It wasn’t long before the Rushton’s realized that it would be impossible to stay away.
The Rushton’s lost their youngest son, Drew, 10, to Aplastic Anemia on Dec. 2, 2018.
“Tragedy resets you,” said Yancey Rushton, reflecting on what brought the family back to ranching. “Agriculture produces people that know how to do stuff, and ultimately, I want to raise my kids to have the strong values and practical skills that the people of this country used to have.”
The Steamboat Cattle Company began as a combination of several small land leases close to Steamboat that required a constant shuffling of cattle from one property to another. When the opportunity presented itself to purchase a property near Yampa that could support their operation in one location, they were eager to make the change.
“For me, moving the operation to a single location that we could manage holistically made our lives easier,” said Rushton, who has a full-time job in addition to ranching.
However, the property was conserved, and it took the family some time to understand what that meant for the future of their operation.
“I had a hang up with the conservation easement because I was focusing on what was restricted rather than what could be lost if the conservation easement were not in place,” said Rushton. “Eventually, I put my money where my mouth is, because if we lose the land, all that we are going to be left with is the ability to look back and have regrets for what we let go.”
Late last year, the D2 Ranch, named after their son Drew, became the new home of the Steamboat Cattle Company. The Steamboat Cattle Company is a direct-to-consumer cattle operation that provides locally raised and processed beef products.
Asked about the family’s operation, Yancey described his desire to maintain the heritage and diversity of cattle. In Alabama, the Rushton’s had a small farm where they raised Pineywoods Cattle, one of the oldest breeds in the U.S. They now raise Highland Cattle.
“Highland Cattle are the slowest growing breed of cattle, so if you are 100% profit-oriented, then these aren’t the cows for you,” explained Rushton. “Of course, I considered their aptitude for the climate and altitude, but I also chose Highland Cattle because they are fun, and work should be fun. You never know what color your calf is going to be, or if their horns are going to come in up, down or some combination of the two.”
The role of local agricultural production extends far beyond the products produced. The resiliency of our community, our open space and wildlife habitat, and heritage are all stewarded by agriculture.
“I fear that as each year passes fewer and fewer people will know and understand agriculture,” said Rushton. “While we all expect food at the grocery store, few will know the work that goes into producing that neat square bale of hay or what lengths a rancher will go to in an attempt to save a calf that drops in the middle of a snowstorm.”
As individuals, there are ways that we can increase our connection to food and advance the role of agriculture within our community. Rushton sees the Community Agriculture Alliance, their marketplace, and the recent expansion of freezer storage, as great displays of the community’s belief in local agricultural production.
“Shopping at the CAA Market is one of the greatest ways that this community can show up for agriculture, we have seen a lot of support for local production over the past several years and it is my hope that this is something that the community will continue to build on.”
You can find Steamboat Cattle Company products at the CAA Market at 743 Oak St. in downtown Steamboat and can purchase directly from the Rushton Family at SteamboatCattle.com.
Amber Sachs Pougiales is the assistant director of External Relations for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.
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