It’s calving time at Aspen’s Cozy Point Ranch
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Monroe Summers is as anxious as an expectant father in a delivery room these days. Only he’s not waiting on the birth of a child; he’s hoping for the successful delivery of 25 calves and their survival in the first crucial hours after they land in a pasture outside Aspen.
Commuters on Highway 82 can keep tabs on the herd’s progress – the number of ungainly little black calves curled up in the greening grass or wobbling next to their mothers seems to grow almost daily.
Summers is the managing partner of Cozy Point Ranch LLC, which operates the small ranch and equestrian facility through a lease arrangement with the city of Aspen, which purchased the property as open space. Some 75 horses are boarded at the ranch, but the cattle belong to Summers, and these days especially, he keeps them under close watch.
“I’m always a little anxious,” he admits, as calving season rolls around. “It’s an investment, but on top of that, it’s emotional. It’s a life-or-death struggle.”
The first few hours of a calf’s life are critical, said Summers, a Basalt resident who’s at the ranch in the wee hours to check on newborns and cows that are about to give birth. The ranch foreman checks them at 9 p.m. and midnight; Summers is there to check at 3 and 6 a.m., before keeping tabs on the cows becomes part of the daytime routine.
Calving has already taken place at other ranches in the valley, but at Aspen’s higher elevation, Summers prefers to have his cows impregnated a little later, so they give birth later. Even so, the first calf born this year arrived prematurely, delivered in slushy, mid-April snow, where it sat for about an hour before it was found. Despite efforts to save it, the animal died of hypothermia.
In a spring of heavy snow a few years ago, Summers said he relocated the herd to Carbondale for calving season.
“The snow was still 2 feet deep in the pasture. It was just a deathtrap,” he said.
Cold and wind can prove deadly for a wet, newborn calf, so it’s imperative to find them quickly, Summers explained. In addition, it’s crucial to make sure a calf nurses within the first few hours of its life. If the mother rejects the calf, ranch hands will secure the cow in a pen and lead the calf to a teat for a dose of colostrum – the cow’s first milk, produced just before giving birth. It’s loaded with antibodies to protect a newborn against disease.
Summers has kept cattle at the ranch for about a decade, moving them to pastures on McLain Flats and in the Woody Creek area during the summer months. The herd spends the winter at Cozy Point.
He started with a few newly weaned steers, feeding them hay from the ranch that wasn’t of high enough quality for the horses, and then taking them to market.
“It was kind of fun having them around,” he said.
But when Summers helped other area ranchers during calving season, he was hooked, and purchased a few cows from the Deane family, which runs the T-Lazy-7 guest ranch on the outskirts of Aspen. The cows were Maine-Anjou, a breed that originated in France, raised for both dairy and beef purposes. They are the distinctive, large, brown-and-white cows at Cozy Point.
But Summers has bred them with Australian lowline, a smaller breed of cattle that are ideal for small ranches. The eat less hay and produce a high volume of beef for their size. They are the black cows at Cozy Point.
He has maintained a herd of 25 cows, selling the rest to Milagro Ranch on Missouri Heights, which supplies Aspen Skiing Co. with beef for its restaurants.
“Originally, I was going to keep it at 10. Then it was 15, then it was 20,” Summers said, grinning as he admits that the small cattle operation is something of an addiction.
And though he was going to phase out the Maine-Anjous in the herd, successively breeding ever-purer lowline cattle, Summers’ fondness for the gentle French breed might mean some of the cows remain.
“These pinto-colored Anjous were the first cows out here. Some of these mothers are 12, 13 years old,” he said. “It’s hard not to get attached to them.”
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