Steamboat Springs Matt and Christy Belton like to keep things simple at the ranch they lease north of Steamboat Springs.
During heavy snowfall Saturday morning, the Beltons loaded about 4 tons of hay onto a feed sled and headed out to their 180 cattle and the horses.
“It’s how we feed every day,” Matt Belton said.
When you are ranching in Routt County, weather quickly can cause headaches, so Belton relies on a pair of draft horses named Kibbles and Bits rather than fighting with equipment that does not want to start.
“They start every morning,” Belton said.
The way the Beltons feed their livestock might seem old-fashioned, but it gets the job done, and it is a shining example of Routt County’s ranching heritage. Christy Belton also likes the exercise.
“This is a good way to start our day every day,” she said.
Sometimes, the Beltons will be joined by friends or anyone else who wants to come along for the ride. It helps people understand the ranching lifestyle, and Christy Belton thinks that is important.
For their conservation and agriculture efforts, the Beltons along with their son, Tell, have been named Ranchers of the Year by the Routt County Conservation District. On Dec. 5, they were announced as the winners at a reception and given a sign that they can hang at their ranch.
District Manager Jackie Brown said the Beltons were recognized for their continuing education in agriculture and the way they maintain their land and ranch headquarters.
“Their land is pretty much impeccable,” Brown said.
The Beltons also were recognized for not overgrazing the land, controlling noxious weeds and keeping a healthy and happy herd of livestock.
Matt Belton is a fifth-generation Routt County native, and Christy Belton has lived here for more than 25 years. Both of them grew up around ranches, but they were not raised on them.
“Since I was this big, I wanted to ranch,” Matt Belton said while holding his hand a few feet off the ground.
The Beltons used the proceeds from the sale of a home 16 years ago to buy their first cows. They have been growing the operation ever since, and they now run 1,400 head of yearlings during the summer. They lease 30,000 acres of land, including 1,600 where their headquarters is located along Routt County Road 129 about 10 miles north of Steamboat on land owned by Arie and Sharon Hoogendoorn.
“Matt and Christy are a wonderful example of our up-and-coming ag producers,” Community Agriculture Alliance Executive Director Marsha Daughenbaugh wrote in an email.
Matt Belton said he takes a lot pride in making sure all the fence and buildings are in good shape, and he tries to raise as much hay as possible during the summer so he does not have to truck it in.
The conservation district also recognized Matt Belton’s unique business operation that he developed with other local ranchers. For a percentage of the calf crop, the Beltons will feed and calve the rancher’s cattle. This allows the rancher to pay the Beltons for the service once the calves are born, which makes it financially easier for ranchers.
Making sure future generations are aware of their ranching heritage also is important to the Beltons.
Every year, they host children at their ranch during Ranch Days, a program through the schools that educates elementary school students about agriculture. In addition to classroom work, the students get to take a field trip to a local ranch such as the Beltons'.
“It’s just important now that they’re a couple generations removed from a farm or a ranch,” Christy Belton said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com