An Attachment to the Land

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Contributed by Tom Patterson

I am happy to share my first blog entry for Hay Mama!  In this first post I want to talk a bit more about P Bar Ranch and how we think about our relationship with the land. 

As many of you know, I grew up in Grand Junction, a wonderful small town in Western Colorado.  My upbringing was heavily influenced by my dad’s decision to buy a small farm outside of town.  At a young age, I got exposed to the many activities and skills required to run a farm, including irrigating, building fence, operating and repairing machinery, and caring for livestock.  My dad (a practicing orthopedic surgeon) believed in keeping busy, and one of the great things about a farm is there is always plenty to do!  I loved everything about the place and realize now what a special experience it provided me as I grew up.

One unique aspect of my farm experience was my dad’s incredible appetite for reading.  Our dining room table was covered with stacks of magazines and medical journals, and we also had books by the great conservation thinkers like John Muir and Aldo Leopold.  It sounds more ideal than I am sure it was in reality, but I remember spending my weekends working with dad on various projects on the farm during the day and in the evening (most likely before I had my driver’s license) I read these books and absorbed a perspective on the natural world that enriched my appreciation for what we were doing on the farm. 

I was particularly lucky that my dad was pretty much willing to take on any project, so we ended up starting a small herd of cattle that increased to 30 cows by the time I finished high school.  We sold off the herd when I went back east for college, and I like to think that a good portion of my first year’s tuition was covered by the proceeds (it would take some pretty creative accounting for that to be true!). 

When our family purchased the first part of P Bar Ranch in 1998, a primary driver of the decision was my dad’s desire to have a place rich in wildlife and natural beauty that we could care for and enjoy as a family.  In the years since, we have expanded the size of the ranch and we have implemented land stewardship practices that have made a very positive difference to the health of the land.  A major focus has been enhancing the health of the riparian area.  The cottonwood bottoms along the river had a Park-like quality when we bought the ranch, with huge old trees dispersed in a manner like you would see in Central Park.  But there were no young trees!  To encourage regrowth of cottonwoods and willows, we reduced or eliminated grazing in the riparian area.  Ranchers traditionally utilized the riparian area for its abundant forage but also for natural shelter for cattle and horses in the winter months.  The grazing and browsing resulted in the young trees never growing beyond an immature state.  We invested in stock water tanks and wells that allowed us to water the cattle without requiring access to the river.  We also fenced out the riparian areas from the open pastures.  It has been almost 20 years since we implemented those changes, and today we have a riparian forest that has a generation of young trees that are 50 feet tall and we see an amazing difference in the richness of the habitat.  We mow several miles of trails thru the riparian area to make it easy for us and our guests to enjoy this remarkable environment.

In future posts I will talk about some of the other management practices we have implemented to make the ranch as healthy as it can be.  This work is rooted in what I was exposed to as a young person, and I will be forever grateful to my father and the many others who have provided the inspiration that has shaped our approach to stewardship of a wonderful part of the Rocky Mountain west that we call P Bar Ranch.

A few of Tom's favorite books from growing up:
A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold
My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir
Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
Diary of an Early American Boy, Eric Sloane