Drought recovery and rethinking ranching in Southern Colorado - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Drought recovery and rethinking ranching in Southern Colorado

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There is a comeback years in the making happening on ranches out on the plains of southeast Colorado. It is a recovery following multiple years of devastating drought.

"It was survival mode," said Jean Meinzer who raises cattle at the most southeast corner of El Paso County.  For Meinzer and her family, making it through the drought is about livelihood, also heritage. "This has been generations and you want to keep it that way and you want ensure that it's going to stay in families."

It is similar for Rick Davis who learned ranching from his father and grandfather. “Pretty much my grandfather started ranching around the Falcon area, 1904.”

Drought conditions from 2010 through 2015 were compared to another drought in the 1930’s, when it was so bad it was called the “dust bowl”.  This recent drought also had dust and blowing dirt covering grazing land. Ten Colorado counties had natural disaster declarations.

Ranchers took drastic measure to keep their ranches going. Cutting down on the numbers because the grass became so fragile after that and it is still fragile even though we had the rain," said Meinzer Cattle herds are the cash flow and ranchers were selling off their money maker. Some numbers cut by nearly three quarters.

Keeping cattle required spending a lot of money.  With grazing land down to nubs at the root, remaining animals required feed purchased at a premium.. "I think what affected me more than anything was the price of hay doubled during that time frame and also finding hay was very difficult,” said Davis, “There wasn't any local hay."

A break finally came in the form of rain that started during the spring of 2015. May of that year Colorado Springs airport recorded numbers.  "I don't complain about rain anymore—never," said Davis. Soaking conditions delay ranch work, but delays have no comparison to drought.

Post drought comeback will take years to bring back healthy grass on grazing land. "You employ conservation measures, extreme conservation measures,” said Meinzer.  Drought has also motivated many in the Colorado cattle business to research agriculture science looking for a better breed of cattle to raise. " We've gone totally Red Angus," said Meinzer. Whether pure bread or crosses studies show there are weather resistant cattle. "They don't require as much care in cold weather or a drought,” said Meinzer, “They know how to take of themselves and that's important in the ranching industry."

Southern Colorado ranchers are taking lessons from the drought conditions and looking to the future. "I think we're eternal optimists for whatever reason,” said Meinzer.

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