Ferguson Family Ranches
Liza Clarke, her son Tyler Ferguson, and his girlfriend Ana Worswick, sit at Liza’s kitchen table on a cold day in March. Outside, their cattle graze in snowy pastures.
Ferguson Family Ranches is a true family operation run by Liza, her two sons Roscoe and Tyler, Ana, Tyler’s daughter, Ana’s son, and Roscoe’s wife Lizzie Tilles. The ranch started in 1977 with Liza and her late husband Bill Ferguson.
Tyler and Roscoe’s future in running the ranch was inevitable. The Ferguson brothers participated in 4H in high school and worked cows.
“I always figured at some point I'd come back here. I knew I would kind of take it over. Taking this place over happened a little sooner than I had anticipated but it is what it is. I’ve had to learn a lot on the fly,” said Tyler. Tyler has been helping out full-time at the ranch since 2006 when his father passed.
The family’s grass-fed beef operation in Ridgway, Colorado, relies on the health of the land.
Ferguson Family Ranches utilize three different pastures to feed their herd -- their own home pasture, high country in the San Juan National forest and leased pasture from neighboring homeowners.
This past year, Tyler started rotational grazing on their home pasture. “We talked about it for a while, and it made sense. Rotational grazing is just good for the soil,” said Liza. The family is constantly working together to better their operation. “Rotational grazing doesn't decimate the grass as much,” said Liza. She said that the grass where Tyler has sectioned off four-acre plots for cattle is growing nicely.
The Ferguson's cattle are never given antibiotics or hormones. Their cattle are never grain finished and are fed a strictly organic and vegetarian diet on natural pastures. Their cattle spend all summer grazing on wild natural growth crops at 9,000 ft, in the San Juan Mountains.
Following these principles leads the Fergusons to produce leaner meat with higher levels of Omega 3 Fatty Acids, higher levels of Vitamins A & E and more conjugated linoleic acids.
The operation is cyclical and dependent on the seasons.
“In the ranching lifestyle it's repetitive in a sense that every year it's going to be the same things that we're doing. But it's non-repetitive in that it's constantly changing within those seasons,” said Tyler. “This time of year, the early spring, we're mostly just feeding and then getting ready to start calving in our home pasture.”
“Then as we get done with that, we'll get all of our water turned on and start irrigating and cleaning all the ditches and repairing fence, branding and getting ready to push the animals up into the high country,” adds Liza.
Fifteen years ago the Fergusons were able to purchase a forest service permit from a neighbor. “It was just pure luck,” says Liza on grazing their cattle in San Juan National Forest.
The Fergusons drive their cattle to graze in the high country to allow the Ferguson’s home pastures to grow and be viable for the cattle come fall. This rotational method is less intensive on the land compared to a small area that is consistently grazed. This also allows them to put up hay during the summer months to feed their cattle through the winter.
“Once we get the cows up in the high country, we'll then spend most of the summer irrigating and riding up there checking on them. We will move them from one elevation to another. Then from the homeowner's yards to graze to the forest to graze. Then from the forest back to the yards, and then back to the valley. Usually before we get them back into the valley we've started haying and putting up as much hay as we can for the following winter,” says Tyler.
“In the fall we'll wean the calves. Most of our neighbors sell a bunch of their animals in the fall, but we always keep our calves a little later than our neighbors. We'll wean them, and then we usually sell some calves in February,” says Liza.
Ferguson Family Ranches utilized conservation easements to help lower the cost of the land they purchased in 1977. “It takes money to be able to buy a piece of land. What my grandfather did was buy the piece of land from the current development plan for the county, which is one house per 35 acres so each of these pieces of land would have had two house sites on them, and we put the entirety of the land into a conservation easement. In putting it into a conservation easement, we took away one of the house sites. That slightly reduces the value of our land as far as being able to sell it out back onto the market but the conservation easement gave my grandfather a large tax break that allowed him to purchase the land.”
The conservation easement also protects the valley from over development, preserves working ranch lands and protects the wildlife in the area.
Liza says working with her family is fantastic. “I’m so lucky that my sons moved back to the ranch and that we work so well together.”
“It’s an interesting dynamic working with family,” says Tyler. “Sometimes you have to break up some of those family roles and sometimes have to talk about things from a more business oriented aspect. The more critical ends of things are a little more delicate, but we've been pretty close for our whole lives, and work together on all kinds of stuff. I think we do pretty well with working together.”
Liza recognizes that the ranch is always changing and advancing. The entire family has a say in the ranch. “Everyone has a say on their involvement and what they contribute.”
Most importantly, the family recognizes they have a special situation. “Everyone realizes that we have a good thing going,” says Liza. “I feel very fortunate to have my family living right here on this ranch. I couldn’t do this without them.”