Late summer irrigation carries cattle through fall

Elk River takes a dip

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— Flows in the Elk River near Steamboat Springs dipped to about 60 percent of their historical average Monday morning, as farmers and ranchers began looking ahead to autumn.

C.J. Mucklow of the Colorado State University Extension office in Steamboat said Monday that hay growers in the Elk River Valley have begun putting irrigation water back on their harvested fields. The purpose is to grow fall pasture for their cattle.

About two-thirds of the hay crop in the Elk River Valley has been harvested, and the irrigated fields produced average to above-average harvests, Mucklow said. Dry land hay production was off 20 to 25 percent this summer, he said, because very little rain fell in the critical month of June.

The Elk River was flowing at 76 cubic feet per second where it merges with the Yampa River at midday Monday. That compares to the historical median flow of 118 cfs.

The Yampa, where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat, is right on the median flow of 127 cfs based on 96 years of record.

Mucklow said farmers and ranchers could expect to harvest about two tons of hay from an acre of land in the Elk River Valley. By putting water back on the fields in August, they can generate another 500 to 600 pounds of feed per acre, enough to feed a beef cow for about a month in the fall.

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