The Wet Mountain Valley is home to all kinds of wonderful summertime festivals and events, but this week’s Custer County Fair and Westcliffe Stampede are certainly the granddaddies of them all – both had their humble beginnings back in the mid-1940s.
More importantly, these two community institutions pay homage to the Wet Mountain Valley’s important and still vibrant agricultural heritage, where hay and cattle not only contribute to our local economy, but help define our rural lifestyle as well.
Despite economic uncertainties and recent drought conditions, cattle ranching and hay production continue to be a linchpin to our local way of life.
According to recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, there are some 226 profitable farm and ranching operations in Custer County encompassing some 137,800 acres (more than 215 square miles of Custer County’s total size of about 738 square miles; the average ag operation is some 610 acres.)
Though drought conditions the past decade have certainly impacted local hay and cattle operations, production is on the upswing. The county’s hay production in recent years has ranged from about 28,000 acres to 47,000 acres, with per-acre yield reaching as much as 2.85 tons of highly nutritious and sought-after mountain hay.
Cattle inventory, though down a few years ago due to the drought, is back up to about 6,400 animals (we’ve still got more cattle than our 4,000 humans!) And these ag operations employ some 360 full- and part-time workers, and contribute as much as $8.4 million to our local economy.
So while you enjoy the county fair and the Stampede rodeo, give a tip of the Stetson to Custer County’s proud and still-thriving ranching heritage.
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