Colorado dude ranches in winter: Coping in the cold
Colorado dude ranches Chico Basin and Zapata are not strangers to harsh winters. Manager Duke Philips explains how they manage their animals in the freezing temperatures
Duke Philips, Manager at Chico Basin Ranch and Zapata Ranch in Colorado, USA
The Philips family runs cattle, bison and horses on native, open rangeland over two different working ranches – Chico Basin Ranch and Zapata Ranch in Colorado, USA – totaling almost 200,000 acres. Cattle and bison spend the entire year outside, even when it’s snowing and temperatures plummet as low as -40ºF. How do the horses and cattle cope in such harsh conditions, and what can non-ranchers learn from their management practices?
Duke Philips, manager of Zapata and Chico Basin, explains: “Our horses spend the winter outside with only their natural coats, and receive very little supplemental feed. We work hard to select animals that are able to sustain themselves as they once did before modern man appeared on the horizon, convinced that animals could only survive in extreme weather conditions with our help.”
The same goes for the some 8,000 head of cattle and bison that roam the 200,000 acres of ranch land. “Right now, there is six inches of snow on the ground,” says Duke, “– but the animals are out grazing, having come out from the steep stream banks and brushy areas where they laid down during the brunt of the storms for protection. If we were to ride out over the 200,000 acres and gather 8,000 head of cattle, just think how much time it would take and how much energy the animals would expend traveling the large distances back to the ranch headquarters. And then, after we had rounded them up, where would we put them all? Think how much feed they would get through at 40lb per head, and how many coats and barns it would take to cover all of them.
“On the other hand, think how well wild animals fend for themselves if let alone, finding small niches where the wind does not blow, where there is a nice patch of grass hidden in draws. Think of the warm coat of fur wild animals grow for protection against the cold winter.
Winter at Chico Basin
“Even though we believe we know best, nature is far smarter than our combined wisdom. By trying to work in harmony with nature, our business is much healthier and our animals are much happier, leading natural, peaceful lives.
“Of course, it’s difficult to separate our feelings from the natural world if we do not spend all day, every day outside in nature. What’s more, common anthropomorphic tendencies can be harmful to domestic animals, especially when humans do not spend time outside in the elements with the livestock they manage.
“As professional ranchers, we get wet when our animals are rained upon. We experience the severe heat and cold that our animals feel. We have dedicated our lives to managing land and animals by living alongside them, to make sure we understand as best as possible the conditions that they are living under. In large part, living outside in the elements is why we have chosen to be ranchers. It makes us feel alive, and that we are providing stewardship to our ranchlands, livestock and wildlife.”
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