Wyatt Whyte’s Del Norte Diary
Del Norte is situated in the south western corner of the San Luis valley of southern Colorado. There is no Starbucks and the nearest McDonalds is thirty five miles away. It has a long and colorful history dating back to early Spanish settlements. It is the case with the town that although a river does not run through it, it does border up against the Rio Grande; tall cotton woods lining both river banks. To the east about fifteen miles is the town of Monte Vista, and another fifteen miles east, the town of Alamosa. To the west, South Fork and Wolf Creek pass.
There are a few more things you ought to know about Del Norte. It is the county seat of Rio Grande County. In Del Norte, gun control is defined as the ability to hit a coyote running flat out, at 200 yards on the first shot. A Ford 550 with dual wheels is considered a chick magnet. And a high school education mixed with some common sense and a good work ethic can still land you a respectable job.
My most recent visit to Del Norte came on the tail end of a cold streak that saw daytime temperatures fall into the minus 30 degree range. I wanted to experiencing that; the bragging rights alone would have been worth a breakfast or two. Tim, a fellow Buckeye transplant and I left Colorado Springs around noon on an unseasonably warm day but got a much colder reception three hours later in Del Norte; 12 degrees with winds that set the temperature at zero.
Within an hour of our arrival at the Double Spur Ranch, we got a message that two heifers had dropped calves a bit earlier in the day and if we expected them to live through the night we’d better get to the grazing area they were penned in. Like first responders, several ranch folk arrived within minutes to help. Pregnant heifers share some of the same traits most females do. In this case, a dozen or so, their curiosity having gotten the better of them, had circled the newborn calves making it doubly hard to determine who the actual mother was. The calves themselves were curled up in dried grass resembling straw, the wind freezing their matted hair.
The mothering instinct in some heifers is not always as strong as you might think and it soon became apparent that one had not answered the call to nurse. Without nutrition the calf’s chances of survival were diminishing by the minute. Add a wind chill factor of zero and the condition was becoming acute. The neglected calf was placed in the cab of the pickup to thaw out; getting the newborn to accept nourishment would prove a little trickier. The night passed with continued stimulation, flexing and feeding and twenty four hours later he was was still weak, but alive. Getting the recalcitrant mother to take a more active role took two more days. Quick thinking and experience combined to revive what nature nearly denied.
The day following the successful rescue effort, the entire herd of sixty head were driven to a holding pen across a snow covered landscape by riders on horseback and relocated at the main ranch where they could be more closely observed, and more easily fed and cared for pending the calving process “scheduled” for mid-February.
Winter cold and welcomed snow fall are expected to last into late April along with 150 new stock, whether nature co-operates or not. That is what life is like here, and that is something else you ought to know about Del Norte.