Saturday, March 2, 2002
Dear Friend Bertha,
Now that I've finished with the wild tale of the outlaws, Lant and Tracy, I'll tell a little of what is going on around the May ranch; certainly nothing as dramatic as rounding up bad men in Brown's Park or being nearly beat to death by vicious killers.
In fact, you may think life on the ranch sounds a bit dull compared with your life in the city. Well, we think a few days in the city is fine, but we're always glad to get back to the farm where we can relax and enjoy nature.
I was going to say, "setting our own pace," but I guess it would be appropriate to say "letting our cows and horses set our pace for us." And speaking of horses and cattle setting the pace that is exactly what we are doing right now. Our beef cattle, mostly long yearling steers, are on their way to market in Denver.
As our cattle come off the high range or forest reserve instead of following Elk River downstream to our home ranch, S bar S headquarters at Moonhill, about five miles below Clark, we leave Elk River and follow our cattle to the southwest to our Mystic Ranch. I say "follow our cattle" because they are just backtracking the route by which they were driven to range in June and it is natural for them to return by the same route, eventually reaching their calving ground and wintering quarters.
In fact, if we don't catch up with all of these "she stuff," they will make it from range to Mystic entirely on their own.
I say "she stuff" because the stock we summer on the high range are cow-calf pairs and yearling heifers. Our yearling steers spend the entire summer at Mystic. Pasture at Mystic is blue stem (western wheat grass) and is ideal beef steer forage while the high range is great for milk production.
Since this is the routine, these cattle would do the same thing entirely on their own, if they had the chance. In the past we have had a few head escape from our home ranch and go to Mystic, and some escape and go to our high range on the forest reserve.
We have learned that it is best to bring the cattle from the high range to Mystic for a few weeks before putting them on the meadow on our home ranch where the lush irrigated regrowth can result in death-loss from cow asthma. Oh, yes, I should have indicated that the steers spend a part of the summer pasturing at Fred's homestead on the side of Buck Mountain, north of Deep Creek. Anyway, when we have gotten all of our cattle together at Mystic and have decided when we want to send our shipping stock to market generally about mid-November, we sort out any cows that do not have calves, cows that we think best to replace with yearling heifers, yearling heifers that are not needed for replacements, and all of our yearling steers and start the "beef drive" for the railroad at Steamboat Springs.
And in all this handling (sorting and trailing), we try to move the stock as quietly and slowly as possible.
Any time we see a beef critter move a foot at anything faster than a slow walk, we can visualize dollars floating off into the clouds.
Our biggest concern in getting to the railroad is fording the Yampa River, especially if there is ice along the edges of the stream. There is always the chance the yearlings will break back and run. Having a few old cows in the drive can be a big help. This year another drive crossed ahead of us and left a good trail; our older cows gave a couple of sniffs and waded right in.
It has just been the past few years that we have sold our steers as yearlings; we used to keep them as grass fat beef. Now our yearlings sell as feeder cattle and go to feed lots in the corn belt. On the train, our cattle go through the Moffat tunnel and get really smoke up. That smoke identifies our cattle as "high altitude" west slope livestock and as such bring a premium. We loaded out just before dark Friday. Our cattle will have the weekend to "fill" and be on the market the first thing Monday.