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A history lesson on drought

Carrie Click

Ray Rather is a man who has seen the highs and lows of ranch life during his many years in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I think I’m either 104 or 105,” he joked.

Rather, an Emma rancher who’s really in his 70s, comes from a long line of ranchers. Both his grandparents and parents ranched in New Mexico. It was there in 1934 that Rather remembers a drought equal – and perhaps even worse – than what he is experiencing here now.

“I was pretty young, but I remember that there wasn’t a drop of moisture for 18 months. We ran out of feed, so we got our feed out of Texas, and then we ran out of that.

“So the government bought our cows for $13 apiece and our calves for $8, and shot them. We had to turn our horses out, too, though they managed to eat plant roots out of the ground and survive. It was bad,” he remembered.

From New Mexico Rather moved to southern Colorado, and then to Emma. He now has a 75-head herd. He thinks he’ll need to sell half the herd in order to get through the year.

“We only have half our hay, so we’re either going to sell or give away half our cattle,” he said.

Rather’s long history in the Roaring Fork Valley affords him a wide perspective.

“I remember when all of these valleys were filled with cattle ranches,” he said. “Now, I can count on one hand all the ranchers who are still operating.”

Kidding, he suggested that maybe our taste for beef will have to change. Any available ranch land that remains now is home to other types of livestock.

“We’re going to have to change our tastes,” he smiled, “Maybe now we’ll have to get used to eating horse – or llama.”


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