Tales from the Tread: Seasons in local ranching
Tales from the Tread
Last week was Agriculture Appreciation Week, and to celebrate, the Tread of Pioneers Museum partners annually with the Community Agriculture Alliance and others to help the community learn more about our local agricultural heritage.
Ag Appreciation Week also signals the beginning of spring, and we can look to the area’s ranches for the seasonal changes that take place all around us as the snow melts, creeks and rivers rise, and livestock has offspring.
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, and 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 and 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 1450 lbs, then are sent to the meat-packing plant, to your grocery store, and finally to your plate.
Krista Monger is a former Tread of Pioneers Museum board member and a fifth generation Steamboat 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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