Live from the Ranch

This is the official Ranch Journal, a collection of short reports about daily life on the ranch. Postings are made by all ranch staff, but mostly by Tess Leach & Kate Matheson, Guest Services Managers, David Leach, Business & Marketing Manager and Jeff Gossage, Ranch Manager. (Banner photo 3 by Stephen Weaver)

Bison Adventure with the Logan School
 This week we had a group of students out from the Logan School in Denver.  We loaded them up into our wagon, and headed out onto the Medano bison pasture where we were greeted by a few hundred of Zapata’s finest.  They were learning about colonies, and we talked about bison herd structure, the role bison play in the ecosystem, and how we manage our heard of 2,500.

They were a great group of kids, who asked wonderful questions.  A bison tour is exactly the kind of field trip I would have loved as a child, so I was just as excited teaching them as they were to be visiting!

And of course, no trip to Zapata would be complete without a meet and greet with Gordon!  After lunch, the students and teachers took turns petting our little bison mascot, and fell in love with his big brown eyes and fluffy winter coat.

Posted by Kathleen M. on 10/05/2013

Music and Leather
This week has been filled with tunes and quality time in the leather room at Chico.

Several Mercantile orders have been made and Stu Baby finished his chinks! 

Monday was all day in the shop - A quality Labor Day all-around, finished with an evening dove hunt. We've started making dove tacos this year, dicing up and seasoning the breast - D Licious!
Posted by David L. on 09/04/2013

Fall....and Winter!
Each year we're always surprised by how quickly the seasons change. One day we have 20 people out riding in 80 degree weather in as few clothes as possible, and the next they're asking us to tie coats onto their saddles. 

The mornings over the past week have been chilly and the planters at the lodge have already begun to fade. It might be my imagination, but it seems like a few of the cottonwoods around the lodge are starting to change color! Typically the first snow comes in October, wonder when it will be this year?
Posted by Tess L. on 08/29/2013

Bison Rut
The bison rut (mating season) begins in late July and goes through August. During this time, bulls display their dominance by bellowing, wallowing and fighting other bulls for the choice females. Typically the older bulls (7 or older) are the dominant ones.

The rut is the only time of year when the old bulls come in with the rest of the herd, so it makes for some great rides and bison tours! Here's a link to a male bison showing off.

Posted by Tess L. on 08/29/2013

Saturday, Aug 24, 2013
Just like any business, we must key in on inefficiencies and fix them to spend as little time on each thing as possible. Our water trough system in our pastures is one the inefficiencies currently. We have water troughs located on the border between two or sometimes three pastures. When we move cattle from one pasture to the next, we have to go around and move the welded wire panels from one side of the trough to the other and the way in which we hold the panels in place makes for a time consuming process. The system evolved into this time-eating monster because of our shift a few years ago from cattle to bison. We used to have very mobile cables that were moved from one side of the trough to the other quickly and easily. When we started running bison in our cattle pastures, the cables were no longer effective and a quick fix was to haul out all these welded wire panels and wire them in place against t-posts.  For now, we have gone back to cattle but our system is not easily changed back to the cable setup. There is a possibility of changing back to bison this fall so next week we will be installing quite a few cedar posts which will considerably cut down the time and hassle while still utilizing the very stable welded panels. There are many projects on the list but this one takes priority because we will immediately be rewarded by a whole lot of extra time to spend on other tasks.
Posted by Jeff G. on 08/24/2013

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013
Every year we cut around 300 acres of hay on the Medano meadows and that is what’s going on right now. Our neighbors own all the haying equipment and also do all the cutting, raking, and baling. Joe has been stacking it on a trailer and hauling it in to the bison pens so that it’s in a stack and ready to feed once bison round-up time is here. It takes quite a bit of hay to feed all those bison while they’re in the pens for a few weeks. Feeding hay that is harvested on the ranch eliminates the risk of bringing in noxious weeds that we do not currently have. It also agrees with the bison since it’s the same grass they eat every day.
Posted by Jeff G. on 08/21/2013

Rain Rain, Don't Go Away!
 Thanks to frequent afternoon thunderstorms throughout July, the grass is greener, the cows are plumper, and Medano Creek is flowing again!  The creek dried up early this year because of lack of snow melt.  However, the summer monsoons have brought the water back down the mountains!  Here at the ranch we got just over 3 inches in the month of July.  For a valley that gets less than 8 inches of rain annually, that's fantastic!!  Though it may not be the best for riding in, mother nature has been kind to Zapata guests, and (usually...) only brings the rain and thunder once we are all OFF of our horses!
Posted by Kathleen M. on 08/18/2013

Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013
Last week, we put one of our groups of cattle on to the area near the lodge that was formerly a golf course during the 1990’s. The area has suffered from the planting of golf course grasses and landscaping such as sand traps, greens, tee boxes, and sprinkler systems, and now grows a fair amount of weeds among a high percentage of bare ground. For the past 7 years we have been doing “prescriptive” grazing, a type of restoration that uses herds of grazing animals to get the area back to its natural form. Our herd of 132 heifers has recently been put on 5 to 7 acres at a time of this 240 acre area by using temporary electric fence that is put up and taken down easily. They are moved anywhere from 4 to 8 times daily. This type of grazing forces them to be confined which in turn forces them to eat all the different plants including weeds instead of selecting for their favorite stuff. What they don’t eat gets trampled into the soil along with their dung and urine, all of which adds to the fertility of the soil. All those hoof prints also plant seeds that will sprout with the next rains. It’s a labor intensive project but is also very interesting and fun. The dryer the climate, the slower the progress as far as restoration is concerned. Over the years, we have noticed some improvement in some areas and little to none in others. The soil, from use of fertilizers and severe disturbance is void of nutrients and I believe it will take many more years to revitalize it.
Posted by Jeff G. on 08/13/2013

Ride Through Medano Meadows
Last Thursday, after spending the morning foraging with Hank for our Butcher, Baker, Ice Cream Maker Workshop, a group of us headed to the Medano to take a ride. David and I took a group who wanted to go faster to Sand Creek. To get there we rode through the meadows by the Wedding Trees and came upon a HUGE herd of elk. As we rode on, we kept crossing paths with the elk herd all the way to Sand Creek. 

I snapped this picture of Kitty, our ice cream maker, taking in the view in the meadows. 
Posted by Tess L. on 07/19/2013

Great Plains Toad
Each summer between late June and mid July, the Great Plains Toads appear out of no where. If there's a rainstorm, their numbers seem to quadruple. They're found in such large numbers near the wetlands-- especially Dollar and Cotton Lakes-- that it's actually hard to walk without stepping on one. They hop around all day, some just the size of a penny, looking for insects in the grass.

Here's a great photo of one taken by Patrick Myers of the Great Sand Dunes NP&P.

Posted by Tess L. on 07/15/2013

Rufous Hummingbird.

Rufous Hummingbirds are a colourful harbinger of the changing seasons.
Although it’s only the 4th of July these little birds are on the southbound trajectory of their autumn migration.
They make a large looping circuit of western North America, from their wintering grounds in Central America. Heading north along the Pacific coast as far up as Alaska. Then returning south, inland along the spine of the Rockies. They make one of the longest migrations of any bird relative to it's size. This bird was photographed today, after seeing the first one on the 2nd July.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/04/2013


On the Afternoon of Saturday 29th June I came across a Myiarchus Flycatcher. Having not seen any members of this family here at Zapata I watched it for a while and took some photos. At the time I begun to the think there were some structural features that really didn’t fit with the only species that should occur here, that being Ash-throated Flycatcher.
I sat with the photos for a while and begun to look at the possibility of it being Brown-crested Flycatcher. A species that has it’s strong hold in Latin America and only just creeping into southern Arizona and the extreme south of Texas.
Realizing that it would be out of range I sent the shots onto Bill Maynard with my suspicions of its identity. As a Brit birder here in the US I only have experience with Great-crested and Ash-throated Flycatcher so I needed input from a native perspective!
I was pretty shocked when his reply came “It looks like a Brown-crested, you realize it would be only the second record for Colorado?!”
So from that point the photos were circulated to some very eminent US birders and all were in unanimous agreement with my initial identification.
Unfortunately the bird was not seen beyond 7pm on the 29th.
Although it was disappointing not to get to share the bird with others it has come as some prize for the many hours I’ve put in birding around the ranch. Finding scarce vagrants are, for me at least, one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of birding anywhere.
I’d like to thank Bill Maynard, Mark Peterson Tony Leukering & Richard Fray of for their help.
Hopefully Zapata has some more surprises in store as we go into the autumn period. Could it do one better? A new species for Colorado!?
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013


By late July the sound of bird song begins to give way to the sound of hungry young birds! With all the parent birds working over time to fill tens of greedy mouths. This was one of a group of young Western Bluebirds I photographed the other evening. The young birds on this ranch don’t run the gauntlet of being caught by domestic cats, as there is none allowed on the ranch… It’s a pretty safe place for them.
If you were wondering how you could tell fledgling Western Bluebirds from Mountain Bluebirds an excellent clue is the spotting on the birds back, this would be plain if it were a Mountain.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013

 White-winged Doves at Zapata

A pair of White-winged Doves appeared at the feeders during the last two weeks of June. This was a species I hadn’t encountered before, owing to the fact I have never birded the lower southern States and haven’t been birding in Colorado too long! Traditionally these birds had a range restricted to only the southern states of the US but over the last decade or so have been successfully colonizing new territory to the north. In fact not long ago they were considered a state rarity in Colorado. Most populations of White-winged Doves are migratory wintering in Mexico and Central America.
White-winged Doves feed on a variety of seeds, grains, and fruits. Western White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica mearnsii) migrate into the Sonoran Desert to breed during the hottest time of the year because they feed on pollen and nectar, and later on the fruits and seeds of the Saguaro cactus.
I later saw a third bird behind Safeway in Alamosa, so I’m guessing they are well on the way to colonizing this part of Colorado too.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013

Hello Dolly!
 Meet Dolly! Dolly has just joined our herd and will be discovering her new home of Zapata all this week. Dolly came from some friends of ours a few hours away and is a pretty special Paint. She's settling in well and will be headed to check out the Bison on a ride this morning. 

Posted by Kate M. on 07/01/2013

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