Haying season keeps Eagle County ranching families busy
Ryan Summerlin August 10, 2014
Hay is the lifeblood of the cattle industry — that was true when the frontier was settled and is true today for cattle ranchers either in Texas, Colorado or elsewhere. Likewise, hay is of utmost importance to the New England dairy farmers as it is for their fellow farmers in Wisconsin. It is haying season in the high country. For the Schlegel family — Bill, Jill and Aron — on Derby Road outside of Burns, it is a family affair as each member of the family has a machine to work. For Jill, it’s the raking machine/tractor.
Hay seems to be good for all hay producers this season due to the high snow levels and spring runoff. It is most important for a ranching family such as the Schlegels to get their hay cut, dried, baled and stored when the weather is dry and hot as it has been recently. Long days are necessary to undertake haying. These images show the cutting, raking and bailing of the fresh hay; the cutting can be a day or so in advance of the raking and baling. When the hay is dry, it can be raked in rows and then baled. There are various types of bales such as the large round ones or perhaps the small, rectangular hand-sized bales which most people are aware of. As a youth, I remember well the work in getting hay to the barn. The rectangular hay bales were heavy enough for this teen who worked a dairy farm in rural Connecticut. Stacking the hay in the truck or wagon from the hay field was strenuous — sometimes a bale was suspended aloft with a pitch fork to gain elevation on the upper levels of the stacks. It was a muscle-building effort. An individual was on the ground while another atop the stacks, stacking. When the load was full, it was then taken to the barn and unloaded. The fresh smell of the hay and the body sweat mingled; however, the Holstein dairy cows of my youth certainly approved of the fresh hay. Shade, thirst and a cold shower were much appreciated then as it is in today’s work environment after a day of haying.
The cattle out here are mostly for meat, not dairy, and most cattle are of the black Angus variety. The Schlegel’s variety of cattle are black Angus. The hay is mostly consumed by the ranchers’ cattle; however, there are times when hay is sold. This can be a lucrative business. Recently, due to the drought in Texas and California, ranchers there had to purchase large quantities of hay to feed their cattle. Some ranchers in those states shipped their cattle to the high county of Colorado, where there were favorable conditions. Some ranchers just had to sell off their cattle at distressed prices and reduced the number of cattle in their herds. Ranchers are dependent upon hay, and cattle are dependent upon hay — that is the ranching business.
Once the hay fields are harvested, there might be a second cutting. If the conditions are favorable, then that certainly is advantageous to the ranching family. Or after the first cut, perhaps the rancher will allow his cattle to graze what is left. In doing so, the cattle not only are provided new areas to graze, but they fertilize the pasture with their droppings for next season, too.
So if you drive by the Schlegel ranch or perhaps other ranchers who are presently harvesting hay, stop your car, bike or RV and pause by the roadside and view the effort in haying, and perhaps you might smell fresh hay. It’s the lifeblood of the West, as is water.
Raymond A. Bleesz lives in Edwards.