Right as rain

Storms bring welcome water at critical time for ranches in west valley

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Georgia McIntyre looked at the storm clouds to the south just as a clap of thunder rumbled across the Yampa Valley, near Maybell.

"That's probably a million dollar rain storm," she said. "Maybe not for just us, but for everybody that got rain this morning, I'm sure."

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The rain that fell Tuesday came at a critical time for ranchers west of Craig.

Ground that was damp from April rains was beginning to dry out, and the spring moisture is critical for getting the pastures ready for cattle herds this summer.

McIntyre knows how important water is to the residents of Northwest Colorado.

Surrounded by trees and flowers, McIntyre's home is an oasis created during the years, with Georgia planting the willow trees some years ago.

"If we didn't have river and ditch water, even the native grass would die," she said. "This whole area used to be a big greesewood flats. That ditch is the livelihood for all Maybell."

With Maybell Ditch water, and the occasional rainstorm like the one experienced Tuesday, Sam and Georgia McIntyre have pastured their cattle for 40 years on the ranch near where Sam's father homesteaded. The ranch income also is supplemented by selling hay harvested from meadows on the ranch.

Just upriver at Steele Livestock, Sharon and 6-year-old Jaidyn Steele are at work, unloading bags of feed from the truck. The morning rain was good news.

"It was great. It rained during the night, gave us just enough time to work our cows, and then it started snowing," Sharon Steele said. "This is good for the rangeland where we run our cows. It was a bad drought the year before, and the year before that, and before that."

The ranch was purchased by Darryl Steele's parents, Sam and Violet Steele in the 1950s, after they sold their Conoco Service Station in Craig.

The Steeles will be artificially inseminating their first calf-heifers this week, and any rain helps free up time they are spending irrigating.

"This rain makes the irrigating a lot easier," Steele said. "I don't like the mud, but this is great."

Between Steel Livestock and the McIntyre Ranch is a parcel of land owned by the Camblins on the road to Price Creek.

Mike Camblin runs about 30 head of cattle, and his children are known for their show steers at the county and state fairs. The rain was a welcome site at their ranch.

"It was a good thing, and we needed it," Camblin said. "The rain will help clear up some of those dry spots on top (that) you don't get to" with irrigation water.

Camblin said the drought really hurt three years ago, but the past two years were all right at the ranch.

Camblin's three children, 14-year-old Chelsee, 12-year-old Call and 10-year-old Mackenzie, were happy to see the rain had cooled down the ground before they walked their calves Tuesday. It also kept the dust down.

"We walk them every afternoon," Call Camblin said. "It's good that it's cooler today. We go to the top of the hill and back with them."

Whether from the sky or ditch, the ranches all need water to survive.

McIntyre reflects on the great deal she has learned about ranching and water from friends and relatives throughout the years.

"I've been told it takes five years of good rain after a drought to bring back the springs and wells," she said. "This country would be like a paradise if it had water. When it gets wet, you should see all the flowers that come out, flowers that look like they should have been in Hawaii."

The McIntyres also have installed a center-pivot irrigation system with sprinklers to improve the watering of their pastures.

"Sprinkling saves so much water, it's a better way to do it," McIntyre said. "Last year, I thought we might have to do that to pasture the cows. Put them right under the sprinklers."

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