Hayden Jeff Blakeslee steered seven Ecuadorian ranchers through a system of swinging corral doors and into a chute wide enough for one cow. He was demonstrating the Carpenter Ranch's Temple Grandin-designed system for getting beef to the slaughter in the least stressful way possible.
"If animals are frightened on their way to slaughter, their muscles tighten and fill with lactic acid," Blakeslee said. "The retention of myoglobin in the meat turns it purple, which is hard to sell at the meat counter."
Grandin was fine with the mortality of animals and their use as meat, Blakeslee said, but she did not want their death to be stressful.
Rancher Fernando Polanco stopped during the tour to examine a latch that could be opened easily with the foot of someone on horseback. He took a digital photo to record the design for possible use on his 4,000-acre farm in South America.
Saturday's tour of the Carpenter Ranch served many functions. As the first visit of The Nature Conservancy's Ranch to Ranch Exchange Program, it was a chance for ranchers to study the techniques of American ranchers and also to learn the ways Americans have conceived to conserve natural resources through agriculture.
Before Ricardo Delgado came to Colorado, he did not appreciate the fact that water could be a limited resource.
"This trip opened our eyes," Delgado said. "We take water for granted."
Ricardo is a joint owner of a 300,000-acre ranch with his uncle, Jose, who was also on the tour. The Delgados are one of the largest private landowners in the high Andes of Ecuador.
Like the other ranchers on the three-stop Colorado ranch tour, the Delgados are interested in preserving the wildlife, water and timber resources on their land.
"No one in Ecuador has given us the tools to do something like this," Ricardo Delgado said. "Some landowners have done it privately, but I don't have the resources or the know-how to do it myself."
Roberto Troya, the Ecuador program director for The Nature Conservancy, accompanied the group of Ecuadorian ranchers. The landowners are interested in partnering with The Nature Conservancy much in the way the Carpenter Ranch near Hayden did. The tour was a way for the ranchers to make their final decision.
Ecuador is the size of Nevada with 20,000 different plant species and four separate ecosystems, including the Galapagos Islands, the Andes, the Amazonian jungle and volcanic landscapes. With 70 percent of the population making little more than $34 a month, the focus of most residents is more on daily survival than on environmental education and preservation.
Even more so, it is not the priority of the current government, Troya said. There are no tax incentives to create conservation easements in Ecuador and there are no regulations for timber cutting or grazing.
Colorado and Ecuador are perfect partners for this learning project because of its climate and altitude, Troya said. All the visiting ranchers live above 12,000 feet and deal with many of the same issues.
The two geographical spots also share 30 species of migratory birds that travel between the two destinations, Troya said.
After the tour of cattle facilities, the ranchers followed the Carpenter Ranch trail system along the Yampa River. It was here that Ann Oliver, Nature Conservancy program manager for Northwest Colorado, explained the way the ranch is used beyond stock production.
"The Yampa is a very special river because there is no mainstream dam to stop its natural flow or spread of sediment," Oliver said.
As ranching makes way for development along the river, homeowners are hardening the banks of the river. The goal of the Carpenter Ranch is to work with surrounding landowners to voluntarily create easements on their properties along the riverbanks to keep Yampa flowing naturally.
"We hope to combine agricultural values and natural values," she said.
All the ranchers listened with interest.
Fernando Cobo owns a cattle ranch in the Andes highlands. He is still considering the possibility of partnering with The Nature Conservancy to preserve the wildlife bears, tapirs, mountain lions and condors and 24,000 acres of pristine forest on his 65,000-acre ranch, he said.
His ranch is located at the base of Cotopaxi Volcano.
His ranch is threatened by a proposed water project that would flood part of his land to provide water to Quito, Ecuador's capital city.
Cobo has made no agreement but is considering the possibility of creating an easement to protect his land.
Polanco's farm has already done some private conservation work by creating a condor rehabilitation project within its boundaries. He manages a farm, famous in his country, called the Hacienda Zuleta (on the Web at www.zuleta.com).
The land was purchased in 1898 by the Lasso family. Galo Plaza Lasso is a former president of Ecuador.
Three thousand people live on the 4,000-acre farm. Sixty percent of the production is dairy much of it is used at an on-site cheese factory that produces six kinds of cheese.
The Lassos are interested in collaborating with The Nature Conservancy to preserve timber on their land, among other things.
On Saturday evening, several area ranchers, including neighbor Doug Monger, met with the ranchers over dinner and cocktails to discuss their personal experiences with conservation easements.