Spotted! Calves

Spring is here! Vast greening hay fields provide a striking contrast to the still snowy-white mountains. Crocus and hyacinth poke their diminutive flowers above the soil in local gardens, and their wild cousins the Pasque flowers are doing the same in the open meadows. Days have lengthened, and the sun’s rays melt the ice off the ponds, inviting Blue Herons, geese, and ducks to take up residence in their search for promising nesting areas. It smells of sun-warmed pine trees and freshly turned dirt.

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Photo courtesy of Hal Walter

Of course, being Colorado, spring is a bit temperamental. Short-sleeve weather turns to parka weather, sometimes (often!) in one day. Blizzards follow quickly on the heels of balmy afternoons in the 60s, and - as we’ve just experienced - large snowfalls can change our water status from uncomfortably dry, to comfortably average over the course of a day or two of deep, heavy, wet spring snow.

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These spring snows are both salvation and frustration to local ranchers as 24/7 calf watch swings into high gear. The moisture is always needed and welcomed for healthy pasture and hay fields, but the wet, cold storms are dangerous to tiny new calves and birthing mothers. Ranching is never a job for the faint-hearted, and maybe never so much as during calving season. Our ranching neighbors spend their time watching for cows about to give birth and making sure things progress in a safe manner for both mamma and baby. This leads to a lot of sleepless nights. Long boring waits and brief catnaps are followed by a frenzy of frenetic activity when a cow or calf needs assistance or medical care. Storms usually mean frequent cold, wet horseback rides through pastures in windblown snow, searching for animals that may be in danger from the weather.

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Photo courtesy of Kate Spinelli

Here in the Wet Mountain Valley, we have the privilege of living closely by our hard-working agricultural neighbors, some of them on family ranches that have been in this Valley for over 150 years. Unique among the high mountain valleys of Colorado, this special place remains dedicated to our ranching heritage, and keeping the land in ranching – helping to preserve the local economy and many families’ livelihoods as well as wildlife habitats, ecological diversity, and the spectacular viewshed – is a priority for most Valley residents.

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Our own drive into town takes us past pasture after pasture of cattle. This time of year the number of animals multiplies every time we drive by, with tiny calves appearing soon after their mothers give birth. Watching these doe-eyed babies race around the pasture, bucking and cavorting around their patient mothers, is a wonderful sight we never tire of, and we hope it marks the beginning of another successful year for our ranching neighbors.

About the author: Patty Reagin is a freelance writer and volunteer for San Isabel Land Protection Trust. Her monthly blog for San Isabel titled "Spotted" features the beauty of the flora and fauna in our region. When Patty's not behind a computer working she can be found outside, taking in the beauty of the Wet Mountain Valley with her dogs and horses.

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