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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)

2nd Annual Kenturkey Derby
For Thanksgiving Tess and I headed to the Chico to be with her family and my family who drove in from Texas, Arizona and Denver. It was a blast and the highlight was our second annual kenturkey derby.

Everyone dressed up in funny clothes and hats for the derby, we made special derby cocktails and had ourselves a race. The race was 50 yards around a tree and back, but everyone rode bareback which made it challenging. People were bouncing around, falling off and some were as comfortable as if they were in a saddle and were flying across the finish line. The costumes were hilarious with Elliot from the Chico dressed up like a smooth-talking casanova, Big Duke dressed up as someone right out of Pecos Bill legend, and Jack dressed up as American as possible with the stars and bars. Several people came off but no one got hurt so it was a great race. Julie ended up beating young Duke in the finals (she snuck in a saddle), but it was a close race nonetheless. Jonathan won the consellation bracket and was sporting a sign on his back that read "Just Real Fast", and with the horse he drew he was definitely flying around.

Here's Duke and Elliot with his sweet, sharpie mustache.

Some more costumes - Michael with the dreadlocks, Cooper as a pirate and me as Mad Max.

Posted by David L. on 11/29/2011

Sights Near the Lodge
You can always expect a nice view when the bison, cattle or horse herds are pastured near the lodge. Some days they'll be scattered off in the distance or up close in mass. Last week when Tess and I got to the office the managed bison were hanging out along the eastern portion of their pasture and a few of the horses were nearby. Below is the shot of them all grazing.

The baking has begun and we are on our way to visit family and friends. Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!
Posted by David L. on 11/23/2011

Monday, Nov 21, 2011
Every few days the number of bison in our pens gets smaller.  We have been shipping sale animals for the last couple of weeks and now we are down to just a few.  A few more days and we will officially be done with the bison round-up for the year.  Soon we will get into our winter routine.  The tasks we are looking at this winter are grazing cattle at the state park next door, maintenance on all our vehicles, cleaning/fixing up the shop, and many odd projects that we never get to the rest of the year.  So far it looks like it will be another warm, dry winter, although I hope for the opposite.  It's still severely dry here so even the winter snow is more than welcome.  Let's keep our fingers crossed! 
Posted by Jeff G. on 11/21/2011

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011
As promised in my last post, I want to recount a couple of my favorite stories from bison round-up, so here goes....
On Monday, which was day 4, there were a couple herds hanging out near the old Denton place (in the southwest part of the pasture) and twin lakes. We had already run in a small group out of the meadows, so we trotted down the driveway, almost to the red gate. We didn't want to cut out to the west too soon, for fear of disturbing the bison before we were ready for the charge. I was on Duke IV's team for the entire week, and our team generally took the front on whatever side we thought they would break towards, generally the north if it is an option, or the west. Since there were actually two herds a bit away from one another, the plan was for 1/2 of our team to ride way out to the west in the sand hills, then come in from the west to avoid the front herd from running away from us. Therefore, I was left with my brother to take control of the the front of the first herd. I had been riding behind Duke for most of the week, so was accustomed to being in the front, but not the very first rider! We were able to successfully charge the first group and get them top join perfectly in with the first group. As the groups joined, Duke, Kate, and Jay came down from the hill and slid right in front of me. We were able to keep a solid wall built, with help from Jeff's team sliding in from behind. Our team leaders, as well as members, were all communicating wonderfully. Since we had the west side walled up, the herd took a slight turn for the east, but big Duke's team was there to prevent them from going anywhere. We ran them beautifully across the south meadows, they hit the corner gate by the headquarters, and then headed either for the west gate of the trap or the southwest corner gate. For each run that came in this way, Duke, myself and usually a couple tohers would bust a move for the other gate in the fence that runs west from headquarters, so we could get through and prevent the herd from breaking to the west. We were generally very sucessful in this, thanks to our fast moving horses. In that run, we only lost 1 pair, who were fatigued, it was a spectacular run. And the best part was that Alf was flying in a plane above us taping the run! It scared my half to death when I first heard the plane, and then looked up to see it coming for what looked like my head, but it ended up being SO cool to run along with a plane flying over us time and time again to film our wonderful run. I can't wait to see the footage!!
I apologize for a lack of a better photo, but we all know that I like to post pictures of myself. And Nadine happened to have this picture. I couldn't manage to take pictures while we were running (I probably would have bit the dust)! I owe a huge thank you to my horse Fred, he was the BEST!
Posted by Asta R. on 11/16/2011

End of the Gather
The annual bison gather will be over tomorrow after we finish processing the last little group from the trap. After the processing the rest of the bison in the corrals will either be shipped or let back out onto the ranch.

The gather this year was a success and a fun, intense time spent with the Zapata and Chico crews and friends who helped out.

Here are some final highlights from the last days of the gather into the big trap:

Each day when we'd sit down for lunch, the horses would be crowded right around us and the picture below was often the scene when you'd look up. The horses would be making sure you were eating some good stuff and would remind you they were there occasionally rubbing their noses on your head or sniffing a sandwich. We all hunkered together and laid low so the bison wouldn't see us and the horses were good about staying close together and calm.

On the eastern side of the ranch a lot of the big, older bulls hang out by themselves and won't take part in being gathered, so they remain out there by themselves or in small bunches. This was one of those bulls that we rode by and he just popped his head up and really didn't move much as we rode by.

This is a picture of the small trap that the bison move to from the big trap, that funnels into the corrals where we run them through the chutes.

These are the corrals and the alley that we run the bison through. Note the tall, strong highway railing and pipe that is used. They are athletic and strong and when they are in big groups they are even stronger, hence the massive corral and alley system.

Posted by David L. on 11/16/2011

What goes on at Zapata during the winter?

There aren't any ranch guests, it's really cold, the bison work has finished...what's left to do during the winter? PLENTY. Here's a list of the top 5:

1. Rest. After an intense 8-month season, we're ready for some serious r&r. We all have different ideas of what this means-- Asta, for example, gets rejuvenation from hiking and exploring nature while I prefer to cook. There's just something about creating and enjoying hearty, meat-and-potato-based dishes in the winter that brings a smile to a soul.

2. Clean. The lodge, the bedrooms, the corrals, the shops, tack, horses, vehicles, our homes...really everything.

3. Travel. Whether traveling home for the holidays or to Reno for a trade show, we all seem to find ourselves on a plane at one point or another. David and I have our itinerary stacked with Winter trips-- next month we're heading to Reno for the CDGRA convention, NYC for a fun trip (neither of us have ever been!), and then to Denver for another convention. We couldn't be more thrilled.

4. Plan. A significant portion of on-ranch time during the winter is spent talking about how the season went, making tweaks to our business and planning how to implement them in the next season. For example, this year we had some trouble with staffing and ensuring that everyone had a proper day off each week. Next year, we've decided that vacations will begin on Sundays and Thursdays, and that Sunday will be the non-riding day. This not only eliminates our problem, but also affords guests the opportunity to delve into off-ranch activities: hiking, biking, rafting, fly fishing...

5. Hire. Typically, we have over half of our employees hired by the time January 1 rolls around. Staff is perhaps the most important aspect of our business as the people make or break guests' experiences. We put a significant amount of time into ensuring that all employees fit the bill and will do their part in ensuring that each guest has the best vacation of their life while with us. (Sidenote: YES, we are currently hiring. If you're interested, drop me an email:

Posted by Tess L. on 11/14/2011

Thursday, Nov 10, 2011
Today finished off our annual bison processing for the 2011 year! (Well, almost, we may still run another 60 or so animals through....) It was a successful year, due in large part to the wonderful crew that assembled down at the ranch over the 2 week period of time. Gathering the bison from throughout the 50,000 acre pasture at the Medano is truly a unique experience. For the next couple of weeks I will try to post various stories from the week of roundup, as there are so many to tell. This year was quite different from last year even, it is a constant learning experience working with these "wild" (and most of the time they really do seem wild) bison.
Once we have rounded up all of the bison that we are going to collect into the large trap, we start our bison processing. For this period, we all tend to stick with our same position throughout the week, so we can each tell something a bit different. My job last year and this year was "record keeper," a job I rather enjoy. I get to see each and every bison that cames through the shoot up close and personal- see the photo above! I age each animal that comes into the shoot, so we can keep a running tally of each age and sex group, ie yearling bulls, or 3 year old cows, etc. The calves are obvious by their size. For the others, I check their teeth to tell their age. Yearlings will still have all milk teeth (or baby teeth), though they will be large milk teeth (as opposed to calves tiny little teeth). Two year olds have two large teeth in the very front, and the rest are milk teeth, and it goes on from there. I can be certain of ages up to 4 years, then we simply call them old, as their teeth are no longer accurate. We work with the USGS to collect data on our bison herd, so I work closely with Kate to be sure we have accurate information on each animal. This year we put EID chips into each bison- these are very small electronic ID tags that go into their ears, just like those used in dogs and cats. Kate was able to then enter the animals age, sex, weight, and pregnancy status into her computer, so next year we will be able to scan the animals' ear and pull up all of the info! This may make my job a little less fun, yes I do like opening up their slobbery, rough mouths, but it will be very interesting as well.
As I said, we do still have 60 or so bison who are in the small trap, but haven't yet decided to move into the pens. When they do, we will have a few more to process, and we still have several trucks to load, but for the most part, the work is complete. It will be rather lonely around here tomorrow when all of the gang who came down to help packs up and heads out, but it sure has been a fun couple of weeks!
Posted by Asta R. on 11/10/2011

Gathering the Bison
The annual bison gather is in full-swing. This morning we have a huge, windy storm that has blown in and are going to get a later start so we can wait and see what the weather's going to do.

Our first wave of riders has just changed guards with Kate, Jody and Toby from Top 50 Ranches and our friends from Texas and Florida heading home after being a huge help with the start of the gather. Now friends from the San Luis Valley and near the Chico have arrived for the second shift.

The gathers have all been going really well and our planning and teamwork has really been paying off. Before each gather we break into three teams led by Duke, Jeff and young Duke and strategize on how we're going to approach the bison and what everyone's positions will be for each specific scenario, lay of the land and which gate we'll be aiming for.

We've been averaging around three gathers per day and it really depends on where the bison are when we wake up each morning. Sometimes they are right near the pasture we are aiming for and sometimes they are on the far reaches of the ranch and a few hour trot ensues.

Depending on how the weather shapes up today it looks like we'll be done with the gather by Thursday or Friday.

*Check our facebook page for all of the pictures we'll be posting about the gather
Posted by David L. on 11/02/2011

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