Program helping a new generation learn the facts, hear what ranchers say and then work the land |

Program helping a new generation learn the facts, hear what ranchers say and then work the land

Amy Hadden Marsh
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Amy Hadden Marsh/Citizen Telegram
Staff Photo |

Rifle resident Joan Carnahan is a third generation Colorado rancher. She grew up on a ranch in Tonopas, about 10 miles south of Yampa, that her grandfather homesteaded in 1930. Her mother was raised on a ranch in McCoy.

Now, Joan and her husband, James, raise Angus cattle on 27 acres between Silt and Rifle.

“We don’t sell cows for beef,” she said at an educational forum in her backyard on Wednesday, Oct. 2. “We sell bulls and keep heifers for seed stock.”

The Carnahan ranch was one of four area ranches selected to host the October session of the second annual Colorado Ranching Legacy Program, a partnership between Colorado State University and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. The program helps beginning ranchers learn the fundamentals of range livestock production and ranch management.

Dr. Jack Whittier, a CSU Extension beef specialist who helped develop the program, said “beginning ranchers” is somewhat of a misnomer.

“The [United States Department of Agriculture] has devoted some money to programs like this one to allow training and experiences for people who want to get started in the business or those that have maybe grown up in an operation and want to expand their background,” he said.

The first nine-month practicum, which wrapped up last spring, focused on East Slope agriculture. This year, it’s the Western Slope’s turn to show off. The first two sessions, in May and June, took place in Craig and Delta. Last week’s session also included stops at the Danciger Tybar, Cold Mountain and the Flying Dog ranches near Carbondale. Close to 15 participants learned about high altitude genetics and reproduction, ranching trends and the influence of federal policy on agriculture.

Michelle Dickson, 30, ranches near Hayden with her high school sweetheart. She grew up in the suburbs of Springfield, Ill., and has been in Colorado for about a year. She said her boyfriend originally signed up for the program, but the local extension service representative urged her to attend instead.

“I’m gaining a greater appreciation for [ranching],” she said.

Dickson is also working on a master’s degree in environmental science, which may seem like the opposite of ranching.

“But,” she said, “they’re not as opposite as you may think.”

She said good ranching practices rarely get media attention. And, despite films such as “Food, Inc.”, which depicts the dark side of large- and small-scale agriculture, the farmers and ranchers she’s known in Illinois and Colorado are some of the best stewards of the land.

“They want the best for production,” she explained. “They make management decisions because [they] care about the product – the cattle and the land.”

Similar ranch legacy programs are currently underway in Wyoming and Nebraska. Whittier said all three programs will convene in Cheyenne in February to share ideas. But, he noted, participants are already putting their heads together. “They’re talking about buying or selling from each other or improving this and that,” he said.

After Wednesday’s session ended and participants had gobbled up her homemade cookies, Joan Carnahan took a walk through the pasture with Dickson and other participants. She said she and her husband enjoyed hosting the event.

“The ranching life is a good way to live,” she said. “And James loves to share his knowledge with people.”

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