Shaggy Scottish cattle thrive in Colorado highlands

By Libby James
North Forty News

Christine Weeks grew up on a New Hampshire farm, married, had five children and worked as a corporate accountant for 25 years before she and her husband, Ted Klar, came west. In Colorado they bought a home on 77 acres of land, tucked away on a narrow dirt road in the foothills of Northern Colorado, 45 miles from Fort Collins.

The road to this event was long and circuitous, involving years living in Oregon and Wyoming before the pair found the place of their dreams. “Ted is a native New Yorker but always wanted to come west,” Christine explained. After 25 years of the hustle and bustle of life as a corporate accountant, Weeks was determined to get back to her roots.

On an exploratory trip to what is now American Highlands Ranch, Weeks and Klar decided the area was “just too remote, the road too narrow and precarious.” They didn’t even complete the trip into the heart of the land that was for sale. They didn’t get far enough to see the house.

But something drew them back to the spot that nestles in a valley in the foothills off Hewlett Gulch Road, and this time they were sold. They moved in 2011, in time to experience both the Hewlett Gulch and High Park fires, the remnants of which are clearly visible from their land. By the time they took up residence, their four older children were mostly launched. The oldest is now 34, and the youngest, Gabe, 13, has fallen in love with the ranch. He is homeschooled and also studies online at a Colorado charter school.

The breeding and raising of Scottish Highland cattle is the major focus of American Highlands Ranch. The family leases an additional 35 acres to accommodate their cow-calf operation. “It takes an acre to raise each cow-calf pair,” Weeks explains. She freely admits that she’s the one with the passion; she’s in love with every one of her cows. “My husband helps me a lot, but the cattle operation is my baby,” she says.

Every animal has a name, and Weeks is on intimate terms with each of them. Every morning she hand-feeds them protein pellets, brushes those who need it and talks to them. They feed on grass and protein-rich hay, never corn, and spend their entire lives without consuming a single antibiotic. They are artificially inseminated, using semen from prize-winning herds from around the globe in order to produce top quality animals with diverse genes.

Weeks and Klar discovered this ancient breed of cattle while on a trip to Scotland and realized that they were a perfect fit for the rocky, high-altitude terrain of their ranch. “Beautiful, romantic animals,” Weeks calls them, pointing out that they are hardy, gentle to the land on which they feed and genetically pure.

It’s a challenge to raise cattle in such a remote area above 7,000 feet. They must be protected from harsh weather, especially when the calves are young. Coyotes, mountain lions, bears and rattlesnakes present problems as well. But the cattle do their part. Weeks has seen them protect their babies when danger is near, circling them and forming a barrier with their horns turned out until the danger has passed.

These animals never enter a feedlot. They are shipped directly from the ranch to a slaughterhouse. Their meat contains less cholesterol and fat than other breeds. Customers in search of organically raised beef free from antibiotics and other chemicals place orders and pick up their meat directly from a packing house in Kersey.

“Everything we do on the ranch is connected,” Weeks says, pointing to her organic garden enriched by chicken, cow and llama manure. “We trade with a neighbor to get some diversity in our fertilizer,” she explained.

They raise tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and giant sunflowers and process fruit from their trees into jams and jellies. Using hoops that protect from wind and cold, the outdoor garden gets planted early, and some vegetables are harvested as early as June.

Seeds from the garden are available for purchase. “If they grow well up here at 7,000 feet, you know they will thrive at lower altitudes in Colorado,” Weeks said.

A rain garden built into a depression on a hillside and lined with a layer of sand under the topsoil allows water to absorb slowly and only needs watering during dry spells. Fruit trees, gooseberries and Egyptian walking onions, which bend to the ground and replant themselves, thrive in the rain garden. A winterized greenhouse supplies avocados, persimmons, blackberries and other exotic fruits.

Three kinds of mushrooms grow in a wooded area, using straw bales to create beds. The mushrooms emerge with virtually no effort once the spawn has been scattered and mushroom compost added to create mycelium, from which the mushrooms take nourishment.

Free-range chickens and turkeys are part of the mix on the ranch. Regular egg customers meet weekly at the top of the hill near the ranch for egg distribution, minimizing dusty traffic into their valley.

Weeks appears to have endless energy. So many ranch tasks require daily attention—from checking and feeding the cattle to collecting eggs and tending the gardens. And then there’s a household to run and her son to teach. Still, she has found time to indulge her artistic bent. “We can’t eat on our dining room table,” she says with a smile. “It’s totally covered with cow skulls in the process of being turned into pieces of art.” She paints colorful, intricate designs on the whitened skulls. One lovely piece was on its way to a purchaser in Texas.

A connection with the University of Wyoming makes it possible for student interns to spend time on the ranch learning the principles of sustainability. Weeks conducts workshops and offers classes on gardening and cattle handling techniques, and she welcomes visits from school groups and families for tours of the ranch.

Weeks and Klar are seldom able to leave the ranch, but this summer they will travel to Scotland to visit some of their favorite cattle. Their daughter and her husband will come from New Hampshire to stay at the ranch, and University of Wyoming interns will care for the cattle and tend to other daily tasks. Weeks says she could not leave without knowing that her precious cattle were not in good hands.

See photos of the cattle at American Highlands Ranch’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/American-Highlands-Ranch-155888714603069/), or call (719) 510-1102 and they will happily answer questions.