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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)

Sun Over the Sangres
This is a picture I took of the sun rising over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Each morning you can see the sun approaching and creating a glow that eventually spills over the mountains and into the whole valley. This same build up happens with the storms, and watching the progressions and weather descend over the valley is pretty cool.

Everything gradually gets lit up and lately it's been around 7 am that the sun makes it all the way over. With the frost you'll also see little crystals sparkling all across the ground, grass and plants all making for some very picturesque mornings.  
Posted by David L. on 02/28/2011

Pleasant Surprises
The bison on the Medano side of the ranch roam in a 50,000 acre pasture and depending on their walkabout schedule we might see them every single day for a week or not see a trace for a few weeks.

Yesterday I walked outside and several hundred were milling about and relaxing in the prairie close by. This is a picture of them soaking up the sun and it was a pleasant surprise to look up and see so many so close.

Sometimes when they are near by you can see the young ones off in the distance chasing each other back and forth, sprinting as fast as they can and occasionally ramming each other for fun. A lot like young boys rough-housing. 

When the bison are roaming to new feed you can see them moving en mass with the whole satellite herd moving at a fast walk. These are also pleasant surprises when you're out and about and out of the corner of your eye, a herd of several hundred are clipping along against the horizon and into your field of vision.

This never gets old and these glimpses and subtle visits remind us how lucky we are to live in such a unique and beautiful place.
Posted by David L. on 02/25/2011

Thursday, Feb 24, 2011
Twice a year we get together to make the grazing plan for the next six months.  On Monday we will be making the plan for the 2011 growing season.  We will discuss all the factors involved with pasture health, animal health, logistics of moving herds, calving, employee needs, and many others.  When we are done we will have a plan that maps the rotation of the different herds that fits the needs of the ranch as a whole. 
Posted by Jeff G. on 02/24/2011

Thursday, Feb 24, 2011
This week Allison, a dear friend from Maryland, was able to come out and spend a week at the ranch. It has been wonderful! It has also meant that I have spent some more time out riding, getting some of our younger horses ready for the season ahead. We bought a new horse about a month ago- she is a very pretty dark bay Morgan mare we have named Mogi. She hadn't been on a ranch before, but she has handled being exposed to ranch life very well. We were riding on the Medano the other day and a porcupine popped up right next to us and scurried up a cottonwood tree and she barely spooked- I was very pleased with her. It is also really nice to take the young horses out in the sand and let them gallop around a bit, so we took out Mogi and Snickers, another young horse from last year, and let them have a little fun!
I am always amazed at how lucky we are to have so many natural water sources. In the 50,000 acre bison pasture, all of the water is naturally flowing. There are several artesian wells throughout the pasture (see my post from a few weeks ago), and we also have Big Spring Creek and Little Spring Creek that flow year round. This allows the bison to water year round without any assistance from us. The picture above is of Big Spring Creek on Monday, still flowing quite nicely, regardless of the ice surronding it. While riding along Big Spring we saw several herds of bison, all cows with calves and yearlings, as well as 6 coyotes and too many jackrabbits to count. All the animals enjoy having easy access to water year-round!
Yesterday we were lucky enough to be able to take the day off and enjoy skiing at Wolf Creek Ski Area. If anyone has the chance to visit us before April, Wolf Creek is only about an hour away and is well worth a day trip to go skiing. The mountain is beautiful and the conditions were great, with very few other people out. March is a prime time to come stay at the ranch- go skiing, see the Sandhill Cranes that will be migrating through the valley, and take beautiful photos of the winter landscapes- give us a call if you'd like to come stay a night or two!
Posted by Asta R. on 02/24/2011

Thursday, Feb 17, 2011

Once a year we go out and harvest several animals, cattle and bison, to feed all of us who work here at the MZ and the Chico.  We cut all the meat in a matter of a couple days at the Chico in a barn where we have the cutting tables, packaging tables, saws, and knives, plus all the other necessities such as the barbeque, coffee, music, and almost the entire crew from both ranches!  It's a lot of fun and very rewarding to get together as a big group and cut meat that we all raised on the ranch.  This year my brother Keith and I got two cow elk on the MZ that we contributed and the Chico harvested a lamb which helps add some variety to the freezers.  Tuesday and Wednesday were the days we chose this year for the big meat cutting.  We're back at the MZ now with full freezers that will last us the rest of the year!     

Posted by Jeff G. on 02/17/2011

Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011
We spent all last week working hard on building a new fence around a section of land owned by the ranch on the east side of Hwy. 150. So, we were able to move our horses over to their new pasture on Saturday and they sure are happy (and so am I). The pasture has a lot of good feed in it as it hasn't been grazed since June, and our growing season went into October last year. In particular, the pasture has a large amount of Blue Grama grass in it. Blue Grama grass has a high nutritional value and is especially high in protein; it also is known for holding its nutritional value through the winter. The picture above is of Blue Grama, you will notice it looks a bit like a flag pole with a flag flying at the top. Having a lot of this grass to eat should help our horses maintain their good weight through the rest of the winter and be ready to go at the beginning of our guest season!
I am also happy to say that our horses moved like pros on Saturday. Often the horses get excited when moving as a herd and get to running pretty hard, but on Saturday they went along at a nice walk or trot. They were great about crossing the highway and waited patiently at gates. We made sure to keep at least 3 riders in front of them at all times, which I think was a very useful teaching technique.
On Sunday, Jeff, Nick, Ani, Josh and I took a nice afternoon ride on the Medano- it was wonderful to get back out there. I hadn't been riding on the Medano since bison round-up. It is always nice to be able to share this amazing land we live on with others, so I was happy to be able to take Josh and Ani out. I owe them, and the rest of the crew, a huge thank you for helping me finish the new fence in amazing time. I hope everyone is enjoying the last bit of winter weather and getting ready for spring to come- I know I am looking forward to spending many more hours in the saddle!
Posted by Asta R. on 02/16/2011

Batching It
This is a picture of a bachelor bull I took two weeks ago - definition of "batching it" : spending time alone, being a bachelor, doing whatever you want without having to answer to anyone.

This is what the bison bulls do most of the year, especially in winter. They preserve their energy, don't move around too much and keep as much weight on as possible so that when spring rolls around they are in top fighting shape.

Spring time brings breeding and competition and it is in the bull's best interest to be as big and strong as possible to fight off other suitors, with the ultimate prize being the chance to spread his seed - ultimately spreading the most dominant, strongest seed as he was the one who was biggest, strongest and victorious in battle.

Pretty interesting how it all happens and how strong genetics are naturally passed down through the generations - so, this bull is spending time alone as most bulls do, being sure to eat a lot and stay in the best physical condition possible.
Posted by David L. on 02/15/2011

Friday, Feb 11, 2011

Well, no surprises here, we're still fencing!  We have been lucky enough to have two new additions to the team, Josh and Annie.  They are traveling through and stopped to help with some ranch work and experience ranch life for a few weeks and hopefully, stay a couple more.  They have really jumped in to help and have quickly become part of the team.  It has been really fun working with the two of them as they bring a very positive attitude which we all feed off of.  Thanks Josh and Annie being such solid short term members of our team!   

Posted by Jeff G. on 02/11/2011

Wednesday, Feb 09, 2011

I spent the first half of the day today taking care of our wonderful horses and while I was out there, I spent a few minutes simply observing them. I needed to take some time to look over them all carefuly, especially those who are turned out further for the winter, to make sure they were each holding their weight during this cold, and snowy, spell. Fortunately they are all looking pretty good. I did feed them all some hay today, since the amount of snow on the ground makes it hard for them to find good feed. Also, the temperatures have been dropping to 10 below to 20 below zero at night lately and they have to spend a lot of energy keeping themselves warm. I will continue to feed hay until the weather warms up and some of our snow melts.
I always find it funny how horses have "buddies," and they seem to stay close with their buddies. Obviously the picture above isn't from today, in fact its from several summers ago, but while I was out with the horses today, Cookie and Sunshine were in about the same position as they were in this picture years ago. They remain inseperable while turned out- very interesting to me. They were even in seperate pastures for several months last year, but once reunited in the same pasture, they were the same ole' Cookie and Sunshine (2 of our old favorites here at the ranch). They aren't the only ones: Jeff's 2 horses, Ace and Blue, are almost always right next to one another, out grazing or when in the corrals. Charlie Brown and Maryanne were in seperate pastures all fall, but as soon as I turned Maryanne out, they were inseperable once again. Daisy and Teacup, 2 of our new horses, who also happen to look almost identical, are always side by side.
Next time you come to visit the ranch, see if you can see which horses are buddies- I garuntee you it won't take long!

Posted by Asta R. on 02/09/2011

Yesterday morning we went on a feed and ice run at the Chico. We went all around the north pasture breaking ice with axes and unloading bales of hay. We broke the ice as Michael and Allen talked about on the Chico blog so the cattle can get through to the water at the tanks in their pastures.

This is a picture of a group of calves we came upon who were all huddled together and hunkering down in a team effort to beat the cold.

There was a lead steer with this particular bunch that helps the new cattle get used to feed trucks, moving in to new pastures etc. - basically the veteran the whole herd follows. Little Duke pointed this out to me and said watch, he'll be the first one over - he'll sprint...guarantee it, and the rest will Sure enough as soon as the lead steer saw us his eyes lit up and in terms of cattle speeds he was cookin, and right behind him came the rest of the herd.

It's been a fun week visiting the Chico - Monday we rode through the southern Chico pastures and pushed beefmasters closer to headquarters, where they'll bring them in today for preg testing. They've been busy here with the new winter weaning schedule and it's been fun to pop in and check it out!
Posted by David L. on 02/09/2011

Winter, alas!
It's been warm this winter, unseasonably warm. 5,10 degrees in the mornings, and then warming up to at least 30, sometimes even 55. This isn't what we're used to. 

Yesterday's storm reminded us of how lucky we've been this year. When we woke up and realized it was 30 below, and watched the thermometer eek up to a mere 5 degrees, we were extra grateful for the season's warmth. 

Generally winter here has given way to Spring by early March, in perfect time for the Sandhill Cranes to come through, stop over and lend themselves to photographers of all breeds. We couldn't be more excited for our Crane Workshop this year. Led by renowned nature photographers Michael Forsberg and Dave Showalter, and expert naturalist/birder John Rawinski, it promises to be one to remember. The word's out and the 12 slots have been filled, but soon we're going to announce 2012 dates. Stay tuned to reserve your spot!
Posted by Tess L. on 02/03/2011

Wednesday, Feb 02, 2011
Well, the fair winter I have been raving about finally came to an end yesterday. As David said, Monday evening a storm rolled in, which brought us a bit of snow yesterday. Snow and wind will sometimes get the livestock moving, as they look for shelter, which can result in broken fences. Unfortunately, I had just moved our smaller herd of horses to a new section on the golf course Monday morning. The new paddock, combined with the winter weather moving in must have gotten the horses moving around- I found them hanging out around the lodge yesterday morning! Fortunately, they have all become accustomed to watering every morning at the corrals, so they followed me to the corrals, where I was able to lock them up until the fence was fixed. I spent several hours fixing the fence and checking it throughout for power, but the job was finally completed. I was very happy to wake up this morning to find all our horses in their proper places and all our fences nice and hot!
It is important that we check all of our temporary fences everyday for power because as soon as they are down in one place, they loose power and horses (or cattle) will start to take advantage of the loss of power. The fence itself is just a single strand of tape, and it is fairly easy to break when an animal hits it. Usually we find deer or elk tracks near the broken section.
It is also very important that all of our animals have water available to them. We are very lucky to have several artesian wells filling troughs throughout the ranch. Since the artesians keep water flowing 24 hours a day, the water doesn't freeze and we don't have to worry about breaking ice. This is a picture of the trough where one herd of horses is currently watering- it was -20 degrees last night and there still is no ice! You will notice that there is snow on the tumbleweeds floating in the water. When the weather is this cold, they have to spend hours each day breaking ice at the Chico in order to keep water open for the cattle and horses, so I consider myself very lucky!
Posted by Asta R. on 02/02/2011

Tuesday, Feb 01, 2011

I'm lucky to have such a good crew right now with all the work that needs to be done.  This is an unusually busy winter because of the new bison herd on the former cattle side of the ranch and all of the fences and infrustructure have to be reinforced accordingly.  This is one main reason why more people don't raise bison.  The cost of infrastructure is very high.  Luckily for us, we already have the sufficient settup on one side of the ranch, now it's just a matter of getting the other side up to par.  Here's a picture of the fencing crew doing their thing.  On the left is my brother Keith, in the middle is Pat Creeden, a long time friend of the Phillips family, and Nick Baefsky who is a brand new addition and a damn good one I might add.   

Posted by Jeff G. on 02/01/2011

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