PHOTOS: Feeding long-held ranching tradition | SteamboatToday.com
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PHOTOS: Feeding long-held ranching tradition

Ed and Emmy, Percheron draft horses, make their way out of a barn on Whit and Doug Gates' ranch just outside of Toponas in South Routt County. The horses pull a sled that keeps the Gates' nearly 200 head of cattle, horses and other animals fed during the snowy winter months in Northwest Colorado.
John F. Russell

TOPONAS — Whit Gates looks right at home as he drives a team of snow-white Percheron draft horses through a pasture on his ranch near Toponas.

The air around him is filled with a steady beat of hooves, the jingle of the horses’ tack and the sound of the rails on his sled sliding across the wind-blown surface of snow that seems to stretch from one horizon to the other.

The truth is he doesn’t need to use the reins to guide his horses, Ed and Emmy. With a single word, he can stop the powerful team of horses, and with another word, he can get them to return to pulling a sled that provides food for the nearly 200 cattle that live on the South Routt ranch in the winter. It’s easy to see that this isn’t the horse’s first rodeo.

Whit Gates drives a sled pulled by Emmy, left, and Ed. The team of horses are used to deliver a heavy load of hay through the snow on the Gates Ranch outside of Toponas in South Routt County.
John F. Russell

“I like ranching because of the change,” said Gates, who lives on the ranch with his wife, Tiffany, and their two sons Koy and Kace. “I can’t wait for that first snow of winter, I can’t wait for that green grass of summer, and I like it when the leaves change color. I can’t imagine doing the same old thing every day.”

Gates, who graduated from Soroco High School in 2004, makes feeding cattle seem easy. He does it with a sled, not because it conjures up a romantic vision of life on the ranch, but because he said he finds it easier than using a tractor. 

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The Gates have been feeding cattle this way for decades, and the family’s ranching roots stretch back five generations.

Routt County rancher Whit Gates leads Emmy, front, and Ed in from pasture on the family’s ranch near Toponas. Gates uses the Percheron team to feed the nearly 200 head of cattle that rely on the food to make it through the cold of winter.
John F. Russell

Gates said his uncle still runs the family-owned ranch near Burns. His dad Doug Gates leased property and ran a ranch near Yampa, and left for several years to operate a ranch in Wyoming. But when his son decided to make a go on his own, Doug Gates returned and now the father and son operate the cattle ranch just outside of Toponas, which grows to nearly 700 head in the summer months.

Gates said he prefers the winter despite the cold temperatures.

“In the winner about all you got to do is feed the cows and plow some snow,” Gates said. “You kind of know what to expect every day.  I mean there are little challenges, like maybe tipping off the load or something like that, but for the most part, you know what every day is gonna bring.”

Ed and Emmy, Percheron draft horses, leave a barn on Whit and Doug Gates’ ranch just outside of Toponas in South Routt County. The horses pull a sled that keeps the Gates’ nearly 200 head of cattle, horses and other animals fed during the winter months in Northwest Colorado.
John F. Russell

In the next few weeks, Gates said the ground will start to thaw, and he will abandon the sled and start using a wagon to deliver loads of hay to the cows on his ranch.

“Calving (in the spring) may be my most favorite time of the year, just because you get to see the new little babies hitting the ground,” Gates said. ”And you know you made it through the winter.”

Emmy and Ed wait to go to work on the Gates Ranch near Toponas. Whit Gates has owned the Percheron draft horse team for about 15 years.
John F. Russell
Whit Gates drives his team while feeding on his family’s ranch near Toponas.
John F. Russell
Cows huddle together on the Gates Ranch just a few minutes outside of Toponas on Routt County Road 5.
John F. Russell
It’s feeding time on the Gates Ranch in South Routt County, and the cattle line up for their turn at feed bins.
John F. Russell
Whit Gates’ team of Percherons walk through the gate he opens on his ranch near Toponas. As the team passes through the gate, Gates jumps back on the sled to continue with a day of feeding on the ranch.
John F. Russell
Whit Gates leads Ed and Emmy back to the barn after a day of hard work on the ranch.
John F. Russell
Whit Gates puts away a collar after a day of feeding on the ranch he owns with his father Doug. The Gates are among just a few ranchers in Routt County that feed cattle using a horse-drawn sled in the winter.
John F. Russell
Snow and frost cover the coats of these cattle on the Gates Ranch near Toponas.
John F. Russell
The sign letting folks know they have arrived at the Gates Ranch near Toponas sums up winter in one glance.
John F. Russell

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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