With temperatures dropping into the single digits and highs below freezing, Wallowa County ranchers were busy early this week feeding cattle. For many, this week has been the first time this season they have needed to feed their livestock.
Craig Nichols of the 6 Ranch near Enterprise spent Monday dropping hay for his herd of Corriente cattle. The Corrientes are hardy, Nichols said, and will forage for food in the snow, but still require feed to be dropped during snowy, cold conditions. They must be fed at least every three days, usually about 5 pounds of feed per cow, he said.
Nichols' Corrientes, a breed of Spanish cattle that can survive tough conditions, recently made news throughout the West in an Associated Press story. The Corrientes, which are fairly new to U.S. ranchers, are easier on the land than other livestock, the AP story said.
The story reported the Corrientes, which weigh around 750 pounds when full grown compared to 1,200 pounds for most beef cattle, have less impact on the soil.
Nichols is on the board of the North American Corriente Association. His wife, Liza, whose family has ranched in Wallowa County for several generations, is the group's vice president.
While the Corrientes weigh less than other cattle, therefore yielding less meat, Nichols said he can raise three for what it costs to raise a single beef cow. The beef from the Corrientes also is often marketed as healthy and lean.
Corrientes are often used in rodeos for roping events and steer wrestling.
The breed is the first type of cattle that was brought to the Americans by the Spanish in the 1490s. The Spanish selected them because they were able to more easily withstand the long ocean crossing.
The Nichols purchased 15 head of Corrientes in 1989 from New Mexico and now have a large herd in Wallowa County.
Studies have shown the Corrientes graze for fewer hours each day and feed over a larger area, always on the move. Most beef cattle will stay near watering holes, but the Corrientes are often on the move, similar to deer and elk, the studies said. Because of that, they have less impact on soil and streamside vegetation.
With the cold weather, ranchers throughout the county will be dropping hay for cattle in snow-covered fields. The start to winter feeding is about average this year. The latest into winter Nichols can recall starting to feed cattle is Jan. 15. In some years pastures have been covered with snow as early as November.