Tales from the Tread: Celebrate Ag Appreciation Week

Krista Monger
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A cow checks on her calf at Carpenter Ranch east of Hayden on Sunday afternoon.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

Next week is Agriculture Appreciation Week, and to celebrate, the Tread of Pioneers Museum partners annually with the Community Agriculture Alliance and Bud Werner Memorial Library to host events for all to learn more about our local agricultural heritage. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, our organizations have made the difficult decision to cancel these events. However, you can continue to look forward to the events in future years, and we hope to reschedule some of them in soon.

First, the annual event at the library, “Historical Agriculture in the Yampa Valley,” is a chance to hear first-hand from our ranching families. Next, the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s “Taste of History” event, celebrating local foods, was planned for March 27. The event features dishes made from delicious historical Routt County recipes.

As Ag Appreciation Week also signals the beginnings of spring, we look to the area’s ranches for the changes that will take place all around us. 

After a long winter of feeding and pregnant cows, spring starts calving season on Routt County’s cow-calf operations. Ranches in our county strategically choose this time of year based on the snow level. Calving for older cows is simple. Rarely is a vet called, usually only if a c-section is needed. A calf is licked clean stimulating the calf to stand, and it will stand within minutes. The calf seeks milk, and then the bond is made.

In May, the meadows lose their snow. The hay crop will start to grow as soon as the daily temperatures rise, and this means cows need to come off. Cows and calves are then taken to summer pastures in the hills.  

Summer comes and romance starts. Bulls are turned out with cows, one bull per 20 cows. They all comingle in a common pasture, then all the bulls are removed in late summer.

While out in the pasture, ranches turn their attention to the hay crop. Meadows with brome/timothy/clover grasses are irrigated by flooding ditches; dry-land hay and alfalfa must rely on the rain. Alfalfa is harvested first in mid-June since it matures earliest. Next comes dry-land hay. The irrigated hay meadows are last, which usually are not ready until August. The alfalfa will yield a second cutting.  

Fall is weaning time, where calves are pulled off their moms. Steers (cut males) and heifers (females) are separated. The ranch will look through its heifer calves, pick the best to keep as bred stock and sell the rest with the steers.  

The calves will be taken to a grow yard or more pasture to adjust from being weaned. They grow to be 1,450 pounds, then are sent to the meat-packing plant, to your grocery store and finally, to your plate.

Tread of Pioneers Museum board member, Krista Monger, is a fifth generation Steamboat Springs native who ranches with her husband and parents in the Lower Elk River Valley on the same ground as her ancestors.  Her great, great grandparents raised their family at the confluence of the Elk and Yampa Rivers.  

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