Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The economy is in the tank, at least theoretically, and yet, like a ray of sunshine across a land of dismal faces that look like an approximation of Dante’s Infer­no, the Tybar Ranch of Carbondale held it’s ninth annual production sale last week. That’s gutsy, to say the least, but then, there aren’t many ranchers light on intestinal fortitude, including in this case, a woman named Emma Danciger.

Just to notch it up a bit, the sale was held in the ranch’s new calving and sales facility, a brave gesture of looking into the wind and turning adversity into advantage, in the best tradition of the old west. Oh, sure, the bidders kept their hats pulled down low and generally refused to pay top dollar in a far-reaching spirit of enjoying the fruits of economic downturn, real or imagined, but the dedicated ranch hands kept the cows and heifers coming, one after the other, and there wasn’t much time to savor the good deals you thought you’d just made.

In an age when real estate transactions and gilded bullshit seem to guide the direction of town, it’s difficult to remember that as recently as the 1960s, agriculture was the leading income producer in Pitkin County, including Aspen. Our cat­tle drives through town were, for the most part, celebrated events, and as high school kids, we could tie a horse up about anywhere while we par­tied or went to the movies. Who could remember that far back, you say? And who cares, anyway?

What struck me most during the Tybar sale was the number of old-timers there, people who’ve played integral parts in the ranching history of the val­ley, and who still are active and curious about the future of agriculture in these parts. When I say “valley,” I need to empha­size that Pitkin County’s incomprehensible approach to agriculture no longer takes up much dis­cussion time ( because it’s well embedded), and people talk more directly about the value of cows and the expense of maintaining operations.

Guys like Dr. Alan Bowles and Dr. Carter Jackson, two long­serving valley veterinarians, who at one time probably preg­nancy- tested more Hereford and Angus cows in one year than any current vets examine in 10 years, can be glimpsed in seri­ous conversation behind the bidding stands. This writer finds a certain pride just in knowing two such illustrious men and that they actually remember him from the old glory days.

Bill Fender, born and raised on the Tybar Ranch, long before it was the Tybar, was there, hobnobbing with one and all, and keeping up the front of the tough cowboy, when we all know he’s really a nice guy underneath, but still a SOB at times. And they keep coming by ” Tom Turnbull, John and Jeff Burtard, John, Paul and Bob Nieslanik, Bill Fales, Billy Grange ” old boys who’ve forgotten more about cows than can be taught in four years of animal science at CSU.

But it isn’t just about the old-timers ” there’s a bunch of young-blooded, eager-faced cowboys roaming the grounds ” guys like Brad Day, Ty Burtard, Matt Turnbull, Ted and Mark Nieslanik, Mike Goscha, and a bunch more. And don’t forget ” for every man mentioned above, there’s a damned good woman involved in the business just as deeply as the men.

When the auctioneer’s hammer hits the stand for the final time, and the last stock trailer pulls out and heads for home, it isn’t so much about the breeding strength of the cows or the beauty of the ranches outside the sale barn ” it’s about the fact that cattle ranching, which hit the valley about the same time as mining, is still going strong, with a good future. With many other markets in disarray, cattle are still a good invest­ment with a strong return.

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