Snow falls on a cow Friday afternoon in a pasture along Routt County Road 129. Routt County cattle ranchers are embracing the cold wet weather because it will benefit their hay meadows.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Snow falls on a cow Friday afternoon in a pasture along Routt County Road 129. Routt County cattle ranchers are embracing the cold wet weather because it will benefit their hay meadows.

Cold, wet weather pleases ranchers in Steamboat

More snowstorms in May could keep the hoppers away

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Cows graze in a pasture Friday along Routt County Road 129.

— Routt County farmers and ranchers welcomed the return to winter weather Friday, as long as the prevailing winds don’t kick up a blizzard.

“The winter snow runs off, but this stuff runs into the ground,” rancher Jim Stanko said about the mixture of rain and snow that was falling at midday. “If we get three to four days of sunshine after this, the grass will just take off. The wildflowers will be pretty as heck.”

However, with one calf being born Friday and 13 more due this spring, Stanko will take his moisture without spring gusts, thank you.

“The hardest thing is the wind,” he said. “It’s above freezing today, but when the calves get wet and the wind blows, that’s when it’s hard on them.”

Stanko said that before the storm front moved into Routt County on Thursday, April 2010 was reminiscent of an early spring more than 30 years ago.

“This is the closest I’ve seen to 1977,” Stanko said. “Gordon Klein and I were farming the place west of where Steamboat II is now. We were able to disc the field by April 15 and sow the oats by April 23 or 24 that year. That’s pretty early. Normally, we would be happy if it was dry enough to get into the field between May 10 and 15.”

According to the National Weather Service, there is an 80 percent chance of rain and snow today and a 30 percent chance Sunday. The high temperature both days was expected to be 52, and the sun is expected to return to Steamboat early next week.

Stanko’s wife, Jo, said farmers and ranchers in their neighborhood on Twentymile Road already were discussing ways to fend off the looming threat of a summer grasshopper infestation.

Few people who lived in Steamboat during the drought summer of 2002 have forgotten the swarms of hoppers that carpeted some rural roads and munched on hay fields that year. Farmers found as many as 100 hoppers per yard in the fields at the peak of the plague.

After consulting with Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow, Jo Stanko said, property owners in her neighborhood on Twentymile Road three miles west of the city are preparing for the possibility of another bad hopper year. They plan to pool their resources to contract for aerial spraying before the insects can get out of hand this summer.

Mucklow confirmed that his staff is watching eight potential grasshopper spots across the county where the voracious insects could take off based on population samples taken in the fall. One of those hot spots could flare up near the Stanko Ranch, and there is another near Sleeping Giant.

The hot spot lookout is based on grasshopper counts taken in the fall that showed 15 or more adults per square yard. Exceeding that autumn threshold is an indication of the number of eggs that were deposited in the fall, Mucklow said.

Signs point to a grasshopper infestation that would be spottier and not as widespread as in 2002, but “the potential is there,” he said.

If necessary, agriculturalists will spray rangeland with the pesticide Dimilin, which is less persistent and more specific to grasshoppers than Severin (carbaryl).

“Dimilin is not for homeowners. You can’t go buy it,” Mucklow said, and it shouldn’t be used near waterways because it can affect the aquatic insects that fish feed on.

Dimilin attacks juvenile grasshoppers, which molt and shed their skins five times. The pesticide prevents their exoskeletons from maturing and leaves them vulnerable. It is spread with canola oil, which attracts hoppers, Mucklow said.

Of course, Mucklow added, more snow showers in mid- to late May would reduce the need to spray for grasshoppers and lead to a greener summer in other ways.

“The juvenile grasshoppers can’t cope with that kind of weather,” Mucklow said.

And hay growers would welcome more cold moisture in late spring, even if mountain bikers and hikers dread it. It’s the time of year that new calves are being weaned from their mothers and grass hay is breaking its dormancy.

“We’ve got to have the moisture,” Mucklow said.

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