Public interest in the 6-ft. snowstorm that hit Southeast Colorado this winter has melted away with the coming of warmer temps, but the difficulties for ranchers continue. The calving stories are horrific — abortions, weak calves, older cows calving early and/or not producing milk.
One cattleman told me he'd consider a 50% calf crop a minor victory. He'd planned to background last year's calves through the winter. Instead, he sent what calves he could gather to town in January to preserve his limited feed resources for his cowherd.
He confided this was a storm he wouldn't be able to ride out. He was making plans to capture what equity he could, and plotting a direction for his family in the next stage of their lives.
Despite his feelings of failure, regret and the distasteful prospect of eventually moving into town, he still took pride in the fact his calves had topped that January market. It was a validation he'd fought the good fight.
I didn't have the words to make him feel better. I couldn't imagine the toll of all those 18-hour days, all the stress and frustration. Still, he'd lived up to the code. His thoughts through it all had only been on the welfare of his cattle and his family.
As our conversation ran down, I thought I detected a tear in his eye and a quake in his voice, but I was too busy hiding my own emotions. He said, “I'll be able to provide for them (his family). I just can't shake the feeling that I'll always be an unemployed rancher. A rancher is all I ever wanted to be.”
I understood. Like so many other times, I realized how fortunate I was to live this dream, and the fragility of this livelihood.
That rancher may not have cows this time next year, but I hope he knows he'll always be a cattleman of the highest regard in my eyes — a cowboy with grit. There's no higher compliment.
Troy Marshall is a contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free weekly newsletter delivered by email every Friday afternoon. To subscribe, visit www.beef-mag.com.