The Legacy of Ranching in the Gunnison Valley

by Paula Swenson

Visiting the Gunnison Valley is unique in so many ways. Many a visitor exclaim how beautiful and green our open fields are and how wonderful it is that we have all this open space. These “open fields and landscapes” are actually “manufacturing plants” for the third largest economy in the Gunnison Valley: Ranching, aka: food production. Nearly 50 million dollars annually is generated into the local economy from beef and hay production. The hay is grown primarily to feed the herds during the long winter months. Although, with the high quality hay we produce, some is sold out of the valley as well.

cattle graze our public lands

Allen Ranches cattle grazing in the high country. Photo courtesy of Allen Ranches.

With over 85% public lands, the rancher needs to partner with the federal government to produce hay to sustain enough cattle for profitability. With an extremely short growing season, only one cutting of hay is possible. While that hay is growing on the valley floor, the Gunnison Country rancher utilizes federal permits on public lands to graze the cattle during the summer months.

herding cattle in the Gunnison Valley high country

Curtis and Judith, brother and sister 4th-generation ranchers, out with the herd. Photo courtesy of Allen Ranches.

What does this mean for visitors to the Gunnison Valley? It is very possible and common for hikers, bikers and riders to encounter cattle while enjoying the trails and back country of our community. From Hartman Rocks to Gothic, ranchers have federal grazing permits on public lands. While enjoying these wonderful places, visitors need to understand that our “crop” is being raised up there as well. We ask for courtesy and consideration while recreating in cattle country.

If you come across a fence, use the rollover or leave the gate as you found it…if it was closed, close it again….if it was open, leave it that way. If you come across cattle move through them with caution and patience….do not startle them or push them into a bunch. Just as the beautiful fields in the valley floor are “manufacturing hay plants”, the public grazing permits are also producing food for the cattle. In the Gunnison Valley, we need to share the public lands so that both tourism and food production thrive in our community.

The next time you are enjoying a big juicy hamburger or even when you see an advertisement for “grass fed beef”, think about the beautiful Gunnison Valley. We produce beef in a beautiful natural environment…….shouldn’t all manufacturing plants be this glorious.

Paula Swenson is a true Colorado native. Born in 1963 in Granby, Colorado, Paula made her way to Gunnison in 1981 to attend Western State College. Like so many others before her, she found her home here in the Gunnison Valley. Upon graduation, she purchased Misty Mountain Floral and has been in various businesses in Gunnison ever since.

Photos for this post contributed by Allen Ranches. To see more great shots of the Gunnison Valley’s ranching heritage in action, follow Allen Ranches on Facebook.

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