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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)



Snow and A Friendly Owl
Last week we had a light dusting of snow on the ranch that quickly melted away on the prairie floor, but left a little moisture in the mountains. The mountains right now look like they've been dusted in powder sugar and usually remain that way until the next snow.

Watching the bison in the early winter morning or in the snow is always a treat as they blow big plumes of air and snort around as they eat. When the clouds clear away and you can see the sand dunes behind the bison, the landscape looks surreal. The mountains typically have dark patches that stand out against the snow, but the sand dunes stay completely white and look like a miniature, pure-white mountain range against the 14,000-ft stark patches of black and white. This picture below was taken at sunrise as the light was coming over the mountains.



In addition to the sporadic snow, we've had a friendly owl flying around making visits on the Medano. Tess and I have seen him on the sign above the driveway to our house, on the light pole and most recently, on the banister next to my office. He calmly sits there and watches as we go about our business and will sometimes sit there for 20 minutes while we're outside and then we'll look up and he'll be gone. He lives in the trees around the old headquarters and has a nice house next to ours, where he sits in the old windows and scouts for meals.


Posted by David L. on 01/31/2012

Friday, Jan 27, 2012
Some of you who read David’s recent blog might be wondering: “isn’t January late for weaning calves?” The answer is yes, and although it was not an accident, it did get started that way. Two years ago in February we rode out to bring in 50 pairs or so that we did not get gathered the prior November and therefore had not had their calves weaned yet. These cows with calves at side had lived the winter in a large pasture with a lot of feed all by themselves. To our surprise they were in great condition, especially the calves having nursed and grazed for a couple extra months. On our way home we were talking and got to wondering if this would be a good strategy for all the cattle on the ranch. One year later we put the idea into action and here are the principles on which it works. We calve in April and May which is a little later than most people. We like this because, in our region, the grass is starting to grow. For the cows this means that the hardship of calving is lightened by the highly nutritious new growth sprouting up. By the time breeding season (mid June) rolls around, the cows have fully recovered from their marginal winter condition and are slick and fat and ready to breed up. In November, we used to gather everything to the corrals, wean the calves, and turn the cows back out to pasture for the winter. Our calves would weigh around 450 to 500 lbs. and would be about be about six months old. The cows would have four to five months off before they calved again in April and May. The situation now is that we wean calves that weigh 600 lbs. and the cows have two to three months off before calving again. The question was whether or not this was enough recovery time for the cows in between weaning and calving and so far, conception rates have told us that it has worked. I will say, however, that we’re not done tuning this new system. There are definitely some kinks that still need worked out. A harsh winter would hurt this strategy. It’s also extremely long and time consuming to check water and break ice for their drinking water on cold days.
Posted by Jeff G. on 01/27/2012

2012 Themed Weeks and Workshops
Happy 2012!

If you didn't receive our email on this year's themed weeks and workshops, here are all of the details. If you'd like to receive email announcements like this, send an email to tess@zranch.org and we'll include you in the next mailing.

We love this time of year for so many reasons, not the least of which is the coziness that the much-needed snow offers, but greatly because of the time it offers us for reflection. I could go on and on about all of the reasons we’re thankful for this past season—a wonderful staff, great guests and a safe season, to name a few. But simply put, we had a fantastic 2011.

We have thought long and hard about 2012’s Themed Weeks and Workshops. Our goal in creating them is to offer events that will appeal to you as a returning guest. As you read through the offerings you’ll recognize some events, but you’ll also see new ones: Women’s Week & Horsemanship Clinic and Painting Workshop: Horses. These have been created in response to many requests.

Happy 2012 from all of us at Zapata to you!



Branding Week
Dates: May 13 - 20, 2012
Cost: $1,995 pp, includes all meals, lodging and instruction

The week will be shared between Zapata Ranch and our sister ranch, Chico Basin, during the year's most intensive cattle works and branding.

Time on Zapata will be filled with rides in Sand Creek, which will be flowing as it does for only 3 weeks each year, rides with the bison and into Sand Dunes National Park. At the Chico we'll spend time branding calves and working cattle, and riding through the Chico prairie and arroyos. When nighttime comes we'll enjoy dinner over a campfire and a good night's sleep under the stars.

This is a week not typically open to the public and a time of year that we cherish more than any. It is a celebration of springtime, new calves and an annual gathering that we all look forward to!

Space is limited to 15 participants.



Pack Trip
Dates:June 17-24, 2012
Cost: $2,500 pp, includes all meals, lodging and instruction

Beginning with a night in the lodge, the pack trip starts the following morning from the Sand Dunes National Park where we'll head up into the mountains for 3 nights and 4 days of high mountain riding. We'll explore old mining country, take leisurely rides with magnificent views of the whole valley and San Juan Mountains, fish the alpine lakes and enjoy delicious food cooked over the fire. With nightfall, we'll sit around the campfire before retiring to the big, white canvas tent that will be our home and base camp.

The final days back at the ranch will bring rides with the bison, through the Zapata meadows and working with the bison and cattle herds for those not too tired from our mountainous travels! Intermediate riding ability is encouraged, though not required.

Space is limited to 12 participants.



Women’s Week & Horsemanship Clinic
Dates: July 22-29, 2012
Cost: $1,995 pp, includes all meals, lodging and instruction

What better way to spend quality time bonding with your girl friends than to come to Zapata for the week?

Days will be filled with rides through the expansive meadows amongst our 1,000 bison, working cattle, photo trips across the ranch to capture wildlife and hiking through the 700-foot tall sand dunes and bord...

Posted by Tess L. on 01/27/2012

Wednesday, Jan 25, 2012
I spent last week down in Aiken, SC working with a friend of mine who is a wonderful horseman. I wanted to spend some time working on my natural horsemanship skills, in order to be more productive working our ranch horses in the roundpen. It was very interesting to work my horse Chance, because living with the herd of horses at the ranch, caused him to develop a "lead stud" mentality around other horses. This made working with him on the ground very difficult because his focus was always on the other horses and not on the person working with him. The first day we had him in the roundpen, we saw major improvments in his respect for the person working him. Ray always teaches that you need to set yourself up in a no fail situation- whenever you are trying to accomplish a goal, make sure you set yourself up to succeed. With Chance, we first worked on having him yield to pressure. When he was running around the roundpen, Ray would shift his body from pointing at his hip, to pointing at the side of the roundpen where he wanted to Chance to stop; if Chance went past this imaginary line, he would continue to move in front of him until he eventually forced Chance to turn around. He kept working on this until Chance would transition from a canter to a trot, then a trot to a walk, and finally to a halt. He also worked on moving away from physical pressure. For example, he would look at his hind leg, then touch his stick to Chance's hip, the apply pressure to the stick to have Chance cross his hind leg over his other leg. Eventually Chance learned that when Ray focused his attention on his leg, he should move it to cross over the other. I will continue to share bits that 'I learned from working with him and will hopefully have some video clips I can show.
On another note, I will be heading back across the country this weekend in order to be at the ranch and get the horses going for the season. The winter has flown by (as it always does) but I am really looking forward to working with all our new horses!
Posted by Asta R. on 01/25/2012

Weaning
For the past few weeks Tess and I, and Jeff and Carla have been traveling to the Chico to help out with their weaning process. Overall it is a 3 week process that is currently in it's third week. In the first week we gathered all of the pastures across the Chico with cow/calf pairs and slowly brought them closer to headquarters where the actual weaning would take place. Last week, once everything was gathered in a nearby pasture, we took the giant herd into the corrals and spent a full day and the next morning sorting moms, heifer calves and steer calves to separate corrals.

Our weaning process involves positioning the newly separated mom and calf across the fence from one another so that they can slowly get used to being apart and cuts down on their stress, especially during the winter months where they need to be in top condition to ford the elements.

Gradually over a few days the mama cows wander off in pursuit of new grass, water and often times they are carrying a new calf in their belly, so they now have more time to be alone in preparation. The calves do the same on their side and in the hunt for a full belly of water and grass, soon forget about being dependent on their mothers.

This week everything will be spread back out into individual pastures and the weaning process will be complete!
Posted by David L. on 01/24/2012

6 Weeks!
It's hard to believe that there are just 6 weeks until our season starts! Our calendars are filling much more quickly than last year, we can't wait to see you this year.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past couple seasons:

3 mamas and their babies early last spring.



A group of family and friends on a nice summer ride last summer.



Duke leading the pack string through upper Sand Creek 2 summers ago. We still have a few slots in this summers Pack Trip!


Rick Tune and a buddy at a spring branding.
Posted by Tess L. on 01/20/2012

Lined Out
This past Sunday, a good majority of the bison herd decided they were going to take an afternoon walk to new grass. We looked out the window and saw a line of buffalo slowly walking, almost as if in single file, as they migrated to their next location. The line kept progressing across the prairie and the never-ending herd continued as far as the eye could see.

The bison move around quite a bit and you never know where they'll end up. Some mornings you'll see the breath of hundreds of bison pluming into the air in the meadows all around our houses and headquarters, and some morning they will have completely vanished. For big animals, who move of their own volition, they get around quite a bit.
Posted by David L. on 01/17/2012

Weather in Colorado
If you've spent much time in Colorado, you know how unpredictable the weather can be. Yesterday, David and I started out at the Chico where it was incredibly windy and cold, the sky was full of clouds that promised snow. We set out for Zapata about 9am, and fourth the weather until we summited La Veta Pass, about the 3/4 mark for our trip. At the top of the pass, the clouds almost cleared, the wind stopped, the sun came out and the temps rose to 40 degrees. 

When we pulled into Zapata, it was like an early spring day, nothing like over on the Chico. 

Lesson learned-- when you come to visit us, come prepared! And don't let the promise of foul weather deter you. Just wait a few minutes, or move a few miles in one directions, and things likely will improve.

No, this picture wasn't taken yesterday, but in the late summer. The structures are the saddle house and east end of the corrals.




Posted by Tess L. on 01/12/2012

Horse and Cattle Winter Management
When it comes to managing cattle and horses, be it during Summer, Winter, Spring or Fall, there are countless philosophies on what should be done and how much human involvement is necessary. The following is an article that explains our winter management philosophy, on Horse and Rider UK's website. Thank you Top 50 Ranches for getting the story.

Click here to read the article.
Posted by David L. on 01/11/2012

Wednesday, Jan 04, 2012

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you all enjoyed some quality time with your friends and family. I have been enjoying some time back on the east coast and up until a couple days ago, the weather has been warm and sunny, making it a nice break from the valley winter. Before I headed back here, we were really busy wrapping up the season and starting to get ready for next season. In the last couple of months we purchased around 15 new horses!! It was a very exciting process for me and everyone should look forward to some more wonderful horses to ride on your next trip out to visit. Some of them have been up on facebook for new names (either they came without or their name was Joe- and we already have too many Joes)! Once I get back to the ranch, I will hit the ground (hopefully not literally) running on getting all these horses in shape and ready for next season. I am really happy to have some additional horses to add into our guest string, as it should allow our horses to have more time to rest. Our plan is to put them on a rotating schedule, so they are ridden 2 weeks, then turned out on pasture for 2 weeks. This should help them maintain their ideal body condition throughout the season, as well as prevent those who are a little prone to developing attitude problems from actually getting those attitudes.
Well, after being out riding in the sub zero temps, and for those that know me well, you know that it was very brave of Jeff to have me out in those temps (I'm not always the nicest person when cold), I was welcomed back to Maryland with temps in the 60s and abundant sunshine. I have spent a good deal of my time here getting my horses back into shape. I brought Zack and Chance back to Maryland (they were a little too tall for me to get on and off all day). I have been taking a lot of jumping lessons and trying to get them ready to sell. Next week, I will be heading even further south to spend the week working with a wonderful horseman on breaking young horses. I hope to be able to share all I learn with you all this season!
Above is a picture of Chance and I jumping last week- just a little insight into the other side of riding.

Posted by Asta R. on 01/04/2012

Young Bobcat
Tess and I got home on Friday after spending the holidays away and were greeted by a pleasant surprise when we got home.

We've seen a large, adult bobcat several times near the lodge in one of the nearby pastures on the Zapata, but never anything around our house and Jeff's house on the Medano. We were taking the Christmas decorations down and Tess said, hey, look, a cat, no, wait, that's a bobcat. The bobcat we saw was an adolescent that came slinking across our yard looking for the rabbits and mice that make our yard and the nearby pasture their home. He looked just like the picture above that I found on another website.

He quietly snuck across the yard with his huge hind legs, covered in thick winter fur. I personally had only seen one adult bobcat in the wild, never a young guy on the hunt and blending in so perfectly to the snow and sand. As quick and quietly as he came, he was gone.

All of the animals have their winter coats on right now and the coyotes in particular look huge with their big winter fur.

Last night we came home to an owl sitting on a post in our yard, who was also hooting at me the night before when I was getting wood from the scrap pile by headquarters.

I enjoy listening to the animals and watching them in winter because the sounds are more crisp in the cold air and when we have snow as a backdrop, everything looks a little more pristine.
Posted by David L. on 01/04/2012

Tuesday, Jan 03, 2012
Last week we had our annual meat cutting.  Each year we harvest several animals whether they be elk, bison, or cattle for each employee's freezer.  It's one of the benefits of working on a ranch and, to me, it's a huge bonus.  The meat is taken straight off of the range and into our freezer so you just don't get any better.  This year we butchered one elk and one bison.  We didn't have a large crew to get the job done this year, in fact only Rex, our friend Matt, and myself.  My brother Keith and our long time friend Jeremy also pitched in for an afternoon.  It took us a couple of days but now we are set for the year!
Posted by Jeff G. on 01/03/2012

   
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