A severe winter provided biting winds and piles of snow and presented numerous obstacles for Northwest Colorado ranchers.

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A severe winter provided biting winds and piles of snow and presented numerous obstacles for Northwest Colorado ranchers.

Memories of winter and spring

Diane Prather

Diane Prather's columns appear in the Craig Daily Press and Saturday Morning Press. You can call her at 824-8809.

After the drought-like conditions of recent years, Northwest Colorado ranchers were grateful for the moisture when it began to snow this past fall. After all, some forecasters had predicted a mild, dry winter for this part of the state.

The snow was accompanied by wind, and the drifted snow began to pile up. People started talking about the last time a winter had been so severe. Long-time Northwest Colorado ranchers remembered back to the winter of 1949. There were other winters with lots of wind and snow, too, but residents couldn't remember the exact dates.

There were some (this author included) who, in reference to dates and details about challenging winters of past years, said, "I wish I'd written it down."

So what stands out about this winter and early spring?

"It was a normal winter like we used to have when I was growing up," Craig resident DeLaine Brown said.

For Bryn Van Tassel, whose family ranches east of Craig, memories of the winter include "snow belly deep to the cows" and trying to find a dry place to feed and calve out the cows. Even now, feeding still is a problem, this time because of the flooding. Water from the Yampa River has made for a wet and muddy feedlot.

"The water is the highest it's been in a long time," Bryn said.

Trying to keep mineral blocks out for the cattle this past winter wasn't so easy, either. Bryn said when the blocks were put out on snow, it wasn't long until they were drifted over. Later, after the snow melted around a block, a person could find a corner and lift it out - sometimes with not much left of the block because it had dissolved.

Keeping gates dug out is another of Bryn's memories. Bryn used the tractor to plow out the gates so they could be opened, and, in a couple of days, they had to be plowed out again.

Bryn's father, Gary Van Tassel, chuckled when he said the winter was "horrible," but then he added, "I don't think people were ready for it."

Gary had more overtime than he'd had in a good while, plowing snow for the county. He didn't have many days off between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Florence Van Tassel laughed and said, "It was a dirty winter." She also remembered using lots of pellets in her stove.

The Frank Kawcak family pondered the winter and spring of 2007-08. The Kawcak family has a ranch west of Craig.

"There was a lot of frustration trying to get in and feed the livestock while maneuvering the hungry wildlife on private property," Frank said.

"I just put the long johns away last week."

And Frank and Reneta's 17-year-old daughter, Danny, will remember this past season because of the passing of Bia Peroulis.

Donna Deakins said that her memory of the winter was how long it was.

For Moffat County fourth graders, May 2008 may hold the memory of Fourth Grade Ag Day being canceled. This year's fourth graders are the only ones to have missed Ag Day in more than 10 years. The event was canceled because of bad weather.

And the winter and spring hold memories for this author, too, especially having to dig out drifted snow so that I could squeeze through a corral gate to feed livestock. The same spot drifted over time after time. Five weaned, wide-eyed calves stared at the snow, probably wondering how they'd get fed.

Over days, the snow drifted up to the top of a stock water tank and the water froze so the cattle walked on top of the tank.

Spring 2008 found the corral with more "gunk" in it than usual. Water, manure and hay that had been drifted over was up to the top of our overboots.

One day, while I was tiptoeing on drier ground around a cattle chute so I could close a gate, I put my hand on the chute's bar that releases the head catch. The chute came open and down I went right into the corral gunk. It was one of my more memorable spring experiences.

And now it's been written down.

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