Farm & Ranch Living

Born to Ranch

Raising cattle—and children—near Colorado’s Rocky Mountains takes fortitude and faith.


Raising family and cattle near the Colorado Rockies takes fortitude and faith.

Welcome to the Rocking C Bar Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Heritage and tradition

are family themes, starting with my parents, Raymond and Alice Gray. They built this ranch—working side by side, day after day, to pay the bills. I was born and raised here.

In 1972, I brought home John “Doc” Daughenbau­gh, a Marine veteran who was willing to work with my parents to learn about, improve and sustain the ranch.

We married, and Doc and I joined the ranching operation in 1973.

From the beginning we worked as a unit with my parents. My mother passed away in 1974, leaving a void for all of us. Doc and I worked off-site to help pay our portion of the ranch expenses. We raised two children—Adonna and Nate—in the house where I was raised. They went to the same schools I did. And both of them returned to this community

to raise their families.

In 2018, we transferre­d land ownership and management to our children—a difficult process to maneuver. Adonna and her husband, Troy, now own the ranch except for a small adjoining parcel deeded to Nate and his wife, Rachel. Doc and I retain another parcel and the right to live in our home on the ranch for as long as we like.

Throughout the years, the family has made choices that have allowed us to live and work in this beautiful location. The ranch is important to us and to the culture of our valley. I believe continued wise stewardshi­p and the smart decisions of each generation will give our grandkids— and beyond—the chance to ranch here if they choose.

Snowstorms and Stewardshi­p

June 1 Spring is late this year thanks to heavy snow. From Nov. 1, 2018, through May 25, 2019, we received 113 inches of snow at ranch headquarte­rs. We’re grateful for the moisture following three years of

below-normal snow and rain, but ready for warmer temperatur­es.

The work is endless right now. Cattle need to be turned onto summer pastures and meadows must be irrigated. But shouldn’t we find time to build a bonfire and enjoy our cool spring evenings?

June 3 Land stewardshi­p means a lot to our family. Years of practical experience have taught us the best rotation options to ensure grasses are not abused and water sources remain healthy. We have a robust

weed management plan. We monitor the impact of river flow and irrigation water. Maintenanc­e of buildings and fences are constant jobs. A current priority is removing rocks from a

field that used to be a pathway for the Elk River. Troy and Doc spend every spare minute using equipment and hand labor to make the pasture safer for cattle, horses and riders.

June 4 One of my greatest pleasures is seeing our grandkids Leah, 15, and Levi, 14, on horseback working cattle with their dad, Troy. All three handle their horses with the knowledge that if you take care of your horse, it will take care of you.

June 5 People working in agricultur­e have a responsibi­lity to

educate our urban neighbors about the importance of this industry. Many years ago, we decided we should open the ranch to groups interested in learning about our life and land stewardshi­p practices.

Today, in partnershi­p with the Yampa Valley Sustainabi­lity Council and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, we welcomed 35 scientists, researcher­s and community activists to our ranch to discuss sustainabl­e agricultur­e as it pertains to high mountain weather conditions. We talked about climate diversity, grass and crop growth, ag economics, Colorado water law and use, long-term estate planning and the future of agricultur­e. Everyone depends on what the land provides. I hope we painted a positive picture.

June 6 A large part of our spring budget (both money and time) goes to weed management. Larkspur, so abundant this spring, is highly toxic to cattle. Although it can be controlled with chemicals, the best approach in a year like this is to cut

it with a brush hog, which is Doc’s top job right now. We also work to curb Canada thistle, wild mustard, houndstong­ue and wild caraway.

June 7 Turnout Day! Time to move cattle onto summer pastures. With increased vehicle and bicycle activity on our county roads, it’s now easier to move the animals in trailers than to trail them. To ensure the safety of the babies, we separate

calves from cows and load them into separate stock trailers. Today we kept three trailers and a semi busy moving livestock for more than four hours.

Family and Fences

June 8 Today was a grandchild day. We were lucky enough to spend time with our own and we borrowed a few others. The day started with our granddaugh­ter Finley, 2, riding in a horse show. Her dad, Nate, led the horse around a small arena and Rachel walked next to her. Five little riders took part. The judge declared all of them winners; each took home a blue ribbon, a trophy and a smile.

Back home, Leah and Levi were roping with two friends. Later they spent the day racing chickens, spraywashi­ng equipment, helping me move furniture, checking cattle, grooming steers and basically being kids outdoors—not a phone in sight. The future is in good hands.

June 9 Our headquarte­rs is about 6,800 feet above sea level, which puts us in the high plateau of the Elk River Valley. Temperatur­es rarely get above 95 and we usually complain about how hot that is even though we have low humidity. Our

growing season is 59 days; we can expect frost-free days between June 10 and Aug. 30. But nature remains in control, and this morning it was only 24 degrees! I don’t know who was more stunned—us or the alfalfa.

June 10 We measure how tough a winter is by how high the snow gets on our barbed wire fences. A three-wire winter means that the

snow hides at least 3 wires with at least 40 inches of snow. When the snow starts to melt and settle, it either snaps the wire or pops the staples out of the wood posts. Either way, every inch of every mile must be walked and repaired as needed. It is hard, time-consuming work, but you can’t beat the scenery.

Troy, a certified welder, replaced

some of the barbed wire fences with metal piping. While stronger and lower maintenanc­e, it certainly is a lot of work during the constructi­on phase. This week he and two hired men are redoing a section of corral fence. Although the old wood slats served us well, they are like the rest of us: Sometimes it’s time to move aside and let new things happen.

June 11 We are hardy—willing to invest our personal resources into the natural resources entrusted to us. We will build a barn to care for our animals and crops before we build a house. We’ll develop a spring for additional water before we take a vacation. We are grateful when a banker extends our credit one more year. We’re independen­t yet trust our lives and livelihood to God each day.

June 12 One advantage to mountain living is that cool-season grass-grazing animals gain weight really efficientl­y. Cool evenings and warm days help produce high-protein plants that convert into good muscle growth. Snow melts into the ground and moisture is retained throughout the summer, allowing pastures to grow and regenerate. Provided we don’t overgraze—and get a few rains throughout summer and

fall—domestic animals and wildlife can coexist with plenty of feed to go around.

June 14 Cattle first came to Routt County in 1871 via cattle drives from Texas. Within 20 years sheep ranchers discovered the area and started bringing large flocks in for summer grazing. The range wars (armed conflicts over grazing rights, sheep vs. cattle) continued until the Depression, when folks needed to band together rather than fight over resources. The livestock industry still contribute­s to our region but struggles with economic and environmen­tal concerns.

Bikes, Chickens and a Summer Surprise

June 15 Today we hosted 200 bicyclists for lunch. Moots Cycles is a local manufactur­er of high-quality titanium bicycles. Six years ago, they started hosting the Moots Colorado Ranch Rally, an annual dirt-andgravel road ride to help customers better understand and appreciate working ranches and farms. About 175 registered riders made the trip with only one stop—our ranch—for lunch. Community Agricultur­e

Alliance is the ride’s beneficiar­y. Their board members joined us for a meet-and-greet, encouragin­g questions and dialogue about the history of family agricultur­e.

June 16 This has been a day of reflection. It’s Father’s Day, and I miss my dad and father-in-law dearly. Both were gentlemen who treasured their relationsh­ips with their spouses, children and siblings. They worked all their lives to be responsibl­e land stewards. As I age, I realize how gracefully they moved from being young, vibrant men to men in their 90s, which brought health issues, loss of loved ones and changes in routines. We take much for granted when we are young.

June 17 Our large yard is a prime place for ag education. Over the years we have hosted groups from the local college, a nursing home, state water boards, local and state leadership classes, churches and nonprofit groups. Annually we welcome Steamboat third graders

for Ranch Days. Each member of our family visits with the guests, talking passions and concerns.

June 18 I never dreamed we would be raising chickens again!

When I was growing up, my mother ordered 100 baby chicks each spring. She kept a few layers for fresh eggs but most were butchered and put in the freezer. Oh gosh, did I learn to hate chickens. At first, Rachel and Nate got a few hens, which provided entertainm­ent and a few dozen eggs. Then this spring, Leah decided we should get chicks. After convincing Troy she would be the principal caregiver, we all became invested. This required developing a feed and water program, cleaning the chicks’

house and protecting them from predators. I have to admit I enjoy watching them grow.

June 19 In a pasture along the river we spotted a mama bear with three cubs cavorting behind her. She was not concerned about us at all. We were there to see if the bald eagle pair is raising young. It appears there is at least one fledging in the nest.

June 20 We have five seasons: summer, autumn, winter, mud and spring. The temperatur­es range from minus 40 in winter to over 90 in the summer. One year will be extremely wet and the next may bring drought. The wind can howl, a breeze may blow or the air can be still. We have had snow every month of the year.

June 21 This was a revolting first day of summer. It snowed overnight and continued through the morning. And then it rained. The mountains welcomed more than 30 inches of heavy, wet snow, adding up to 2½ to 3 inches of moisture. (June’s average precipitat­ion is 1.7 inches.) The river, already high with melting snows, flooded its banks, forcing Troy and Levi to move cattle to higher ground.

Everyone wore rain slickers over coats and completed the ensemble with winter gloves and hats.

4-H and the Future of Ag

June 23 Our big night sky is unobstruct­ed by light pollution, so we get to enjoy the moon, the constellat­ions and the Milky Way. The air is clear and the sounds are distinct. We often hear the call of

coyotes, elk, geese and cranes. There is a spiritual feeling that comes from being outside at night. It makes me think about the span of the universe and wonder at how large it truly is.

June 24 4-H is geneticall­y imprinted on our family. I was a 10-year member, a state officer and a participan­t with too many projects. I served as a local leader for 19 years,

while our children made their way through the ranks of local, county and state leadership positions. Their proceeds from livestock sales helped with their college educations. Now

Agricultur­e will be around as long as people need to eat, drink and wear clothing.

Leah and Levi are members; they’re taking part in market steers, beef breeding, roping, livestock judging and junior leadership.

June 26 Doc says he wants his headstone to read “They Never Knew What I Did Until I Was Gone.” I think this line suits anyone who ranches. Equipment maintenanc­e and repair is ongoing. Building preservati­on is constant, partially because our weather is hard on the structures and paint. Irrigation infrastruc­ture upkeep is a daily summer activity. Staying abreast of regulation­s and book work is almost a full-time job. And tidying up never seems to end.

June 27 Sometimes it feels like we live in a rodeo arena, always busy with lots of people and vehicles coming and going. Since the first of the month, truckers have delivered gas and oil, baler wrap, steel, cement and lumber. The 4-H livestock judging team practiced on pens of bulls and heifers prior to the state conference (where they took first place). The 4-H roping club and a few neighbors used the roping arena Troy built to hone their abilities. The yard is a magnet for people, pickups, trailers, cars, campers and bikes.

June 28 We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, but the truth is that it takes a village to keep a ranch going. Thankfully we are within easy distance of a town where we can buy groceries or visit the Verizon store to replace a lost phone. We can see the doctor and dentist, deliver baked desserts for a memorial service or fundraiser, get the car’s tires balanced, and stop by the feed store for grain and minerals.

June 29 It’s 86 degrees with a slight breeze today, time to trade our winter clothing for cotton shirts and straw hats. The hay equipment is coming out of storage to be washed, greased and oiled so we can start cutting, raking and baling dryland hay. Alfalfa will be next, followed by irrigated meadow hay.

Our short growing season allows us only one cutting of hay and, if we are lucky, two of alfalfa. Yields are normally good thanks to weed control and managed winter feeding on the meadows, which allows natural fertilizat­ion and soil aeration. We apply supplement­al chemical fertilizer in early spring on a limited basis depending on the previous year’s performanc­e and the current appearance of the crop.

June 30 I’m often asked about the future of ag. My answer is this: Agricultur­e will be around as long as people need to eat, drink and wear clothing. It will not be the same as in my dad’s generation or mine or even our kids’. It will endure because the industry evolves with the demands.

There will always be people who want to grow crops, raise livestock, manage water and soil resources and live frugal lives for the privilege of being their own bosses, setting their own schedules and raising their kids in a wholesome manner. I pray these people will be safe, find contentmen­t with their choices and maybe make a little bit of money along the way.

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 ??  ?? Marsha and Doc have been married and ranching together for 47 years.
Marsha and Doc have been married and ranching together for 47 years.
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 ?? on the ranch. ?? Above, Troy has just tagged a newborn calf. Below, guests circle up to listen as Doc and Marsha discuss water usage
on the ranch. Above, Troy has just tagged a newborn calf. Below, guests circle up to listen as Doc and Marsha discuss water usage
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 ??  ?? Rachel and Nate, with daughter Finley, take a stroll through the sagebrush, soaking up the late afternoon light.
Rachel and Nate, with daughter Finley, take a stroll through the sagebrush, soaking up the late afternoon light.
 ??  ?? Leah, who is in her 7th year as a 4-H participan­t, is the primary caregiver for the family’s chickens, but Doc and the others enjoy helping out.
Leah, who is in her 7th year as a 4-H participan­t, is the primary caregiver for the family’s chickens, but Doc and the others enjoy helping out.

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