There is tradition when Loren Forbes brings a load of hay down Morapos Creek to put up for the winter.
"Dad was born in that house over there in the pine trees," he said pointing across the road Wednesday. "His dad bought this place in 1928."
The hay crop has been important to the family cattle operations for nearly 100 years, and this year's harvest is looking good for cattle on Loren and Debra Forbes' Summerfield Ranch.
"I think we're a little better than average this year," Loren Forbes said. "We're getting about 1 1/2, sometimes 2 tons per acre."
Forbes and assistant Justin Gallegos have been working the fields since June 28, and expect to finish up with haying on Thursday.
On Wednesday, they were transporting large round bales into the hay shed on the ranch that Forbes' father, Stanley, operated for many years.
Forbes' great-grandfather homesteaded just a short distance away on Deer Creek.
His grandfather, Hilliard Forbes, homesteaded on Johnson Mountain, but the remote location offered no schooling opportunities for the children, so Hilliard purchased the present ranch only a half-mile from the old Morapos School, a one-room kindergarten through eighth-grade building.
Forbes grew up around haying and the cattle business, and he has experienced the evolution of haying firsthand.
"Dad and Granddad put up hay with horses, and then Dad got the small bales going," he said. "I knew I would be doing this by myself, so I got into the big bales."
Forbes estimated he will use about a bale each day during the winter to feed his herd, so he is stockpiling 180 bales on the ranch.
This year's harvest was good enough to allow him to sell about 100 bales; however, the hay crop hasn't always been so good.
"It's good to be back to the average again," Forbes said. "In 2000 : That was the worst year. I think we bought about 150 ton that year."
Forbes leases land from his aunt and a neighbor to reach his hay harvest goals.
He also cuts and bales hay each summer for Dan and Frank Kawcak in nearby fields.
Small bales still are used around the barn and corrals because they are easier to handle, Forbes said.
A second cutting will be up to the weather, he said. If it rains before Aug. 10, he likely will cut the fields again this summer.
"If there is no rain, the fields go to pasture the cows : and the deer, and the elk," he said with a grin. "We pasture plenty of deer and elk."
The field he and Gallagos were baling Wednesday had earlier hosted two bull-elk and a 30-cow harem as soon as they finished mowing the hay.
"We just finished cutting, and they came out like it was a buffet," Gallegos said.
On the domestic animal count, the ranch is home to 100 head of "mother cows," Forbes said.
Since the pioneer days, cattle have always been a big part of the Morapos Valley.
"There were 60,000 to 70,000 up here in the early 1910s," Forbes said.
Back when grandfather Hil-liard was courting Viola Marie Taylor after meeting her at the Haddens' post office nearby, there already were homesteads established up and down the creek.
Haying was different in the homestead days than it is today.
The climate of Northwest Colorado has changed through the years, Forbes said.
His grandmother's diary talks of cutting their hay in late August or September, something that would be impossible today.
"Nowadays, that would be too dry. There would be no nourishment in it," Forbes said. "They must have had rain all summer to keep it moist."
Forbes expects the price of hay to remain at more than $100 per ton, especially with methanol production taking some of the corn supply that once was used as cattle feed off the market.
He pays close attention to hay prices on the market reports.
"I think it's still in there at $120 to $140 per ton when I checked this morning," he said. "Hay was low for years, at $60 to $70 a ton. You can't buy machinery at that price."
Forbes recalls once hiring kids to put up hay at $10 per day, but today machinery has replaced much of the manual labor on the ranches.
Forbes worked at Colowyo Mine for 20 years to keep the ranch going and to purchase land from Dutch and Marie Snyder.
He isn't sure his son Justin, wife Melissa and Forbes' grandson Trevor will be interested in running a cattle operation one day, but he hopes to someday just sit back "and point out things that need to be done."
Haying has been grueling the past four weeks on the ranch, with Forbes rising at 5:30 and out the door by 6 each morning. He doesn't get back home until about 7 each evening.
Forbes looks forward to finishing up the haying this week, because he needs to go check on the cattle.
He might even try to squeeze in a fishing trip before he gets back to work preparing for the fall hunting season.
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or email@example.com