Winter Feeding In North Park
The scene could easily be one from sixty years ago—not March, 2017. Little has changed from the days when Twist and Ruth Meyring ranched this land in North Park, Colorado. Today, their youngest son, Danny, and wife, Lucy, continue carrying on a legacy and a way of life that has continued through four previous generations.
It has been said that winters in North Park are “Hell on Horses and Women”, and yet our summers are an absolute “Cow Heaven” with knee high grass and an abundance of fresh, clear, mountain water. The only trouble being summers are just too short. It takes over two ton of hay to get a critter through a six month winter feeding.
Danny’s ancestors were a hardy sort. To survive North Park winters people had to be tough.
Guess that’s where the saying “Cowboy Up” originated. I remember Father Twist telling about wrapping gunny sacks around his feet to try and keep frost bite from his toes. They wore so many layers of clothing that they could hardly move and yet every spear of hay feed to the livestock was moved on and off the sleds with a pitchfork!
Today, we still hitch massive teams of Percheron horses, but mounted at the front are hydra-forks—giant grapple forks running off small gas powered motors that load and unload the hay for easier handling. Every morning we harness eight head of draft horses, and run two four-up teams to feed two separate cattle herds.
Draft horses are amazing animals. They learn quickly the pattern around the feed ground—always turning to the right and keeping out of the hay already on the ground. Talk about efficiency! One man can easily travel three miles each way to a feed ground and feed 500 cows by himself and still get a load of hay into the corrals before noontime. I’d like to see a four wheel drive tractor compete with that! And as Tim Nolting, a noted western poet wrote in a poem about Danny and his feed outfit: “It’s true there’s methods modern, faster, that’ll do the hayin’ quicker, but cold dead steel of a diesel tractor won’t greet ya’ with a nicker”. And as I’ve heard Danny say over the years: “Horses will start every morning—no matter how cold it is”.
This morning as Danny and I headed to the barn before daylight a strong wind was whipping snow up into our faces and making us lean forward to keep the momentum going. There is no need for gunny sacks around our feet as we have awesome insulated boots, and layers of warm, light weight clothing. Sure, it’s still miserable conditions, but we are much more prepared than Father Twist was. As Danny and I lead his horses out of the barn and hitch them up to the feed sled, I can’t help but be reminded of another time when our ancestors were doing the exact same thing. I smile to myself and give thanks that we are blessed to continue a way of life in this unforgiving country where man has got to be respectful of God and his creation if we hope to survive both physically and financially.