Make Hay While The Sun Shines
For many North Park youth, the hay field is the first exposure to a real job. The life lessons taught in the hay field stick with a person. From long days that build an appreciation for perseverance to repairing a broken-down tractor that hones the importance of maintenance, a summer spent in the hayfield is the job without training wheels for adolescent youth.
The hay industry doesn’t only turn out hard working young people in North Park, it’s a driving force behind the agriculture industry in our valley. Ranching pioneers learned the value of putting up hay at the turn of the century when they found it easier to feed cattle here through the winter than transport them over the pass. The devastating winter of 1883-84 decimated the cattle herds by half and area ranchers learned the value of putting the green gold up to cure and use. By 1914 North Park hay had earned a spotlight for its nutritional value and transporting it out of the county became a common business practice. North Park hay is known far and wide for it’s high protein content and for being a nutrient rich livestock feed. Our hay is shipped all over the world and is in high demand across the country.
The process of putting up hay has seen a great deal of change over the last 130 years from cutting with a scythe and plunging it into loose stacks, to now mechanical operations of tractors and balers. There are a few outfits that continue to use the old school ways of loose stacking hay, and a rare number dabble in horses in the hayfield as well for true horse power. I was blessed to be a part of a loose stack summer crew for 13 summers of life and the smell of fresh cut hay continues to bring back feelings of nostalgia.
There are approximately 100,000 acres of hay put up in the park, but the Colorado Department of Agriculture 2014 census reports far less. The 2014 Colorado Department of Agriculture census on nonalfalfa hay production in Colorado credits Jackson County to harvesting 56,000 tons of hay on 42,900 reported acres. Regardless of the actual numbers, hay trucks pulling the valuable commodity over the mountain passes from Walden to Texas, Florida and even Alaska continue to come. The 2017 Colorado Hay Directory shares hay producers from across the state and but only a handful of North Park hay producers. There are a few ranches listed in our Agriculture listings as well here on WaldenColorado.com. We are happy to provide additional listings if you are in the market as well.
Raising quality hay in North Park isn’t just common place, but regarded highly. An award at the North Park Fair is even handed out in the Hay Competition. Receiving the award is like winning the gold medal at the Olympics for area ranchers. Rancher Jack Lewis is known for winning the award a number of times. You may remember Jack as receiving the honor of having the North Park Never Summer Rodeo dedicated to him in June.
This Augusts monsoonal moisture has literally put a dampening on the haying season, delaying production for many ranchers. Producers hope to make hay while the sunshine’s over the next week ahead.