2014 In Review & 2015 Plans!
With the 2014 cattle and guest season behind us, we now pause and look back to see where we have been as well as look ahead to see where we are going. Here are some thoughts about 2014 and projections for 2015.
Water: We started 2014 with a snow pack above average and in better shape than 2013. This eased the anxiety created in the previous 2 years where the snowpack was well below average. In fact, in June of 2012, it was a dismal 11%. In June of 2013 it improved to 65% but there was little runoff to fill the ponds as most of the snow pack went right into the ground, restoring the watershed. In 2014, the runoff filled the ponds and provided plenty of grass. It was a great way to start the season!
Cattle Recap 2014: The yearling cattle from California arrived in May, approximately 1200 head. With abundant grass and drinking water the pasture rotation went well, including a new holistic approach to weed control through multi species grazing. We were granted approval by the U.S. Forest Service to allow sheep to graze our Beeler Pasture for several days as they trailed to their summer pasture. In return, the sheep rancher leased a piece of his private ground to us in the national forest and adjacent to our land. The goal is to see if the sheep will eat the toxic Larkspur plant and weaken it over time. Many of you are aware that Larkspur is toxic to cattle but not sheep. The first year can be summarized as having exposed the issues and the kinks that need to be worked out. We are going to try and do this plan again in 2015 as the efficacy of this practice can only be measured after several years of implementation.
In summary, the cattle weights were good at shipping time. Our death loss was minimal and all the cattle were accounted for…no small task considering the opportunities they had to wander! Many of our guests will recall riding for days looking for the few strays. In the end, the remaining 7 head we were still short were found with a neighbor’s cows that he gathered late off the forest.
We shipped at 3 different times, the beginning and end of August and the middle of September. This year will be remembered for the upside down market. We bought the cattle in the fall of 2013 at a price that seemed high at the time. We sold them in July at an even higher price as the cattle market reacted to a shortage of beef cattle. While there was much jubilation at the profit gains, it was short-lived as we are now struggling with high cattle prices when buying calves and a future’s market that is showing lower prices at the time we will be selling them in July or August. We hope to break even in 2015 but fear we will lose money.
Our 50 cows delivered a healthy calf crop in 2014. The steer calves are sold but we have kept all of the calves here this winter and are feeding them hay. In the spring, we will deliver the steers calves to a ranch in Steamboat Springs. The heifers will remain here. We will begin calving 50 bred cows and first calf heifers mid – April. Noteworthy in 2014 was the addition of two Jersey dairy cows, Tulip and Tillie and Tillie’s calf-Tootlum. The fresh milk and cream were the reward for milking and pasteurizing.
2015: California is facing their worst drought on record. This combined with the high live cattle prices now have necessitated some changes. We currently have 300 head of calves bought and in a feedlot in Nebraska. We have not leased any pasture in California. We will continue to buy cattle throughout the spring and plan to run our usual number – around 1200 head.
Guest Season 2014: The highlights of a guest business can be summarized as re-connecting with familiar friends and making new. In 2014, we not only welcomed back many of our regulars but also had our fourth photography workshop with Karen Schulman. This occurred at the end of August and was again, amazing. It was a busy week as the participants were quite inspired and creative. At the end of the workshop there was a group presentation of their favorite photos. This was very impressive! In fact, this workshop was so successful that we are offering it again in 2015, June 14-20th. Check the website for details.
This year we also welcomed back several guests that first came to the ranch in the ‘50’s and 60’s. All were unrelated and came at different times , sharing memories and gratitude for still being the ranch they were fond of! They did notice the newer ranch house and cabin and did not mind the face lift.
Fly fishing was very good both early and late in the season. The runoff started to subside the last week in June and while the river was still flowing swiftly, it did allow Cliff Watts to take a group of fishers out daily. In late August and September the rains came and increased the flow. Fishing was great, with our last group departing in early October. Before they left, plans were already being discussed for their 2015 rendezvous….another way of saying they were not disappointed!
2015: Cliff Watts will be offering his fly fishing clinic the week of June 21st….beginners and well seasoned fishermen should check this out. Cliff generates a lot of enthusiasm and is quite knowledgeable about our stretch of river as well as other local options available for all levels of skill. We are also pleased that Cliff will be available more often this season to guide and to teach.
Projects Completed in 2014: We all can identify with “to do lists” and the satisfaction that comes with a completed job. This past year we undertook several projects that ranged from top priority to routine maintenance.
- The Two Story Cabin was dismantled and reassembled at the Savery Museum. Work has begun to landscape the vacant site and transform into an outdoor gathering place.
- After years of not haying, a round baler and rake were purchased and both the Lower Meadow and Ethel’s Home Place were hayed. More equipment has been purchased as haying will expand in 2015.
- A new head gate and culvert were placed in the Reservoir Ditch coming through from Headquarters into West Cottonwood below the road. This hopefully will prevent cattle and recreationists from causing erosion and subsequent breaks.
On The Horizon….2015:
- January-arrival of new tractor with gripper to make feeding hay an easier job:
- February-Planning renovations of two older cabins-hopefully to begin this spring; hiring seasonal employees;
- March- purchasing building materials;
- April: trail cows home from their winter pasture and begin calving; trail horses home
- May: Employees arrive; receive & work the cattle; begin the guest season; trail yearling cattle to forest pasture;
- June- work cows and new calves; trail cows and calves to their summer pastures; weekly roundups and pasture rotation of cattle; Photography and Ranch Workshop with Karen Schulman; Fly Fishing Clinic with Cliff Watts; continue cattle roundups and pasture rotations;
- July- anticipate roundup, sorting of cattle; haying;
- August-roundup and shipping of cattle; guests enjoying the early signs of fall while fishing, hiking, horseback riding;
- September/October-Pregnancy testing the cows, selling/shipping the calves; finishing projects before the first snow; begin the third phase of the river restoration project;
- November/ December- trail cattle and horses to their winter pasture; Thanksgiving then Christmas!
Our guests are the driving force behind the plans we make and the pleasures to be experienced throughout the year. We continue to value our membership in The Dude Ranch Association and feel their endorsement is also meaningful to our guests. We have also appreciated the reviews of our guests on Trip Adviser, a relatively new site to us but one that is viewed by some of our guests. Please take the time to review us if you haven’t already done so…we need 50 reviews to merit a badge!
There are many variables to consider when making projections for the 2015 guest and cattle season but we are more optimistic this year than last. Our international bookings are steady for this point in time and we hope this trend will continue. Those inquiring about a ranch visit indicate that they plan to travel and are looking for adventure travel within the 50 states. With gas prices at a low, many are considering a ranch visit as part of road trip through the scenic west.
We send all of you our best wishes for a fulfilling and prosperous 2015. As always, we enjoy hearing from you and would enjoy even more, seeing you when the snow melts and the ground opens up.