What’s said at Cow Camp stays at Cow Camp. Except here.


Snow Storm Prep for Ranchers

Snow is piling up today in Northern Colorado.  Channel 9 in Denver did a nice piece on how cattle ranchers prepare, featuring our own Sylvan Dale Ranch.  The two cowboys in the video are Josh Ciardullo – cattle rancher now leasing grazing at the Ranch, and Dustin Call our Horse Operation Forman.  Two great guys.  The western lifestyle is alive and well at Sylvan Dale!


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My interview on Cowboy Up Podcast

The owner of the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, Russell True, interviewed me on his “Cowboy Up” podcast on February 19, 2021.  We talked about the historic characters in my novels, our family’s Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch where I grew up, using grass-fed cattle to improve the landscape, the Big Thompson River floods, and my teen-age trauma with Baronet Bars, our breeding-compromised quarter horse stallion.  You can tune into it here.

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Envisioning the Future of the Big Thompson River

If you live in Northern Colorado, you no doubt appreciate the beauty, the utility, and occasional destructiveness of the Big Thompson River.

You now have an opportunity to help determine the River’s future.

The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, which I chaired for two years, is seeking your opinion about possible projects to improve river health.  I’m inviting you to fill out an online questionnaire that will guide the coalition in preparing a River Envisioning Plan for the Big Thompson River between the Big Thompson Canyon mouth and the I-25.

The questionnaire features an interactive map that allows you to pinpoint areas along the river or associated water systems where you have project suggestions.  For example, I placed a pin on the map where Namaqua Road crosses the river, and suggested the following project:

This newly acquired city-owned property (Parks and Recreation Department) is the site of Mariano Medina’s historic 1858 stage stop and trading post known as Mariano’s Crossing.  How about recreating the historic structures (bridge, trading post, barns, tavern, etc.) as a “frontier village” concept, a living history museum like Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia?  Might not this become a destination tourism site for Loveland?  A site for hosting historical reenactments and other events?

Now you can have a go.  Get creative, and add your ideas for the River’s future.

The Coalition is especially interested in projects that benefit multiple stakeholders.  For example, an improvement that helps a ditch company rebuild its diversion structure while simultaneously improving trout habitat. Such a project has already been completed in the river reach between Rossom and Wilson Drives using federal flood recovery funds.

Keep in mind that any proposed project must respect riverfront property owners and water rights, and will need widespread community support to attract grant funds.

The Big Thompson River Envisioning Project is similar to other Colorado stream management planning efforts supported by the Colorado Water Plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

The deadline for filling out the questionnaire is Friday, October 9, so grab a computer and “git ‘er done.”  (and by the way, you can fill out the questionnaire twice, once from the point of view you as an individual community member, and again, if you wish, as a representative of your organization’s point of view.)


David Jessup, Sylvan Dale Ranch


River Restoration Tour Stops At Sylvan Dale

Four years after a monster flood tore through the Big Thompson River corridor, great progress has been made in restoring ecological health and resilience to a dozen of the hardest hit stream reaches.

Shayna Jones, Director of Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, leads river restoration tour

These projects, carried out by the non-profit Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, were visited by a busload of landowners, public officials, technical advisers on September 27, 2017.  One stop was at Sylvan Dale Ranch, where trout habitat was restored along a mile of river.  Renewed water flows in a side channel will be the location of environmental education courses for the Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning, a new non-profit that will hopefully assume ownership of the 3200-acre ranch in the future.

A great description of the tour appeared in today’s Loveland Reporter-Herald.


Trout Habitat River Restoration at Sylvan Dale Ranch

Jurassic beast, monster jaws scooping mouthfuls of rocks and cobble, seizing boulders the size of refrigerators, uprooting trees, pushing aside mounds of rubble as if they were feathers, roaring and clanking.  Then, with a sudden personality change, it swivels its long neck around to gently sprinkle sand and gravel over the sloped river bank, pat it down with gentle bumps of its huge head, nudge rocks into place, scraping and smoothing the surface as if building a nest, then washing the dirt off the rocks with a slurp from the river water splashed onto the bank.

The 2013 Big Thompson River flood devastated trout habitat, leaving behind a “sluice-box” run of shallow water rushing down a uniform gradient with no holding water for trout.  The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition obtained a flood recovery grant to restore the stream here at Sylvan Dale and in several other reaches of the river.  Work was completed in May 2017 by Environmental Resource Consultants.  The trout are happy.  So are the anglers.



The Fire – A Poem by Linda Jessup

In going through my wife’s old (unpublished) poems, I came across another I really like:


Opening the restaurant door
I saw them huddled low
Over the single flame.
My arrival stirred the embers of conversation
And pushed another log into the glow.

Faces reddened in the warmth as tongues
Of eager talk leaped and danced.
Laughter shook the fire of friendship
Into a lively blaze
And we held the palms of our souls outstretched
To catch the comforting heat.

Stick by stick, the stacks of fuel were consumed
The smoke of mingled satisfaction rising like a prayer
And the fire settled into a heap of heartwarming embers
That each would carefully carry away—to rekindle
And draw close in colder times.

Linda Jessup, October, 1996

Letting Go – a poem

My talented daughter, Yohanna Jessup, artist, meditation instructor, wandering rose, has surprised me by becoming a website designer.  Who knew my right-brained child could master computer code?  While designing my own website and blog, she has instructed me to post something here to test one of her widgets, whatever those are.  So I’ve chosen to post a poem, Letting Go, written by my wife, Linda, on the occasion of our daughter’s moving away from us, lo these many years ago.


Letting Go, By Linda Jessup

I watch you swiftly go
Slipping through your youth
A leaf sailing down
A forest stream –

A matted mass of grass
And snags – to catch –
Now struggling with the snare
Now twirling on –

Through distant, misty dawns
Too far for these fond eyes
To watch you
Sleekly slide.  You’re gone –

But in mind’s eye abides
The visions of your budding
Bursting pride – now caught forever
On the branches of my love.



Sylvan Dale Beef Described in New Book on “Real Food.”

real-food-fake-food-coverOur ranch’s 100 percent grass-fed beef got favorable mention in Larry Olmstead’s new book contrasting fraudulent food practices with “real food.”  I’m bemused by the “real cowboy with a taut build and sun-weathered skin” who took the author on a tour of Sylvan Dale.  Larry Olmstead is the travel and food writer for Forbes Magazine, and his research on food industry fraud has been featured  on CBS, Time, USA Today and NPR.  The excerpt is quoted below:

…at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, overnight guests can get a more complete dude ranch experience, including horseback riding, target shooting, roping, fly fishing, cowboy songs, bonfires and much more.  But what makes Sylvan Dale different from dozens of other similar working guest ranches across the American West is that they also serve lucky visitors real grass-fed beef from the farm as part of their stay.  The ranch is owned by a brother and sister and their respective spouses, and the brother, David Jessup, gave me a tour.  We had to drive quite a ways out to where the cattle were grazing on open ranchland, just like they would have all across the West a century ago.

Sylvan Dale was begun by Jessup’s parents in 1946 and for more than fifty years just raised calves, which were shipped off to industrial cattle feedlots to fatten quickly through the miracles of alien diets and modern pharmaceuticals.  But about ten years ago the siblings noticed growing demand among local consumers—they are just outside of health-obsessed Boulder—for more natural drug-free beef.  So they began keeping and raising some animals of their own to butcher and sell locally.  Jessup, born and bred a real cowboy, right down to the boots, buckle and hat, with a taut build and sun-weathered skin, quickly became an ardent student and late convert to grass-fed, truly natural farming.  “At first, we used some grain to finish them because that was conventional wisdom, considered ‘normal.’  But then we really found out about the health benefits of purely grass-fed beef and how much better the kind of fats produced were, even compared to those fed just a small amount of grain.  Now we raise all our cattle ourselves, from birth to slaughter, and they eat strictly grass.”  The problem for consumers is that unlike Cook and Jessup, many farmers still sell beef finished on grain as grass fed.
Excerpt from Real Food Fake Food, Why you don’t know what you’re eating and what you can do about it, by Larry Olmsted, pp. 244-245.


Our Promise

With three last great breaths, our dog Promise passed into the Great Beyond on a beautiful sunny Friday morning, September 2, 2016.  What we had thought was some sort of spinal injury, detected only two weeks earlier when she had difficulty keeping her hind legs under her, turned out to be a rampant form of cancer, what the vets called a blood sarcoma.  A scan revealed tumors spreading throughout her body only three days before she died.  So sudden.  So shocking.  She was only seven years old.

We had hoped Promise would live long enough to greet our family members about to gather at Sylvan Dale for our 50th wedding anniversary.  But that Friday, the morning of their arrival, it became obvious that Promise would not be able to hold on.  We carried to our car, laid her in the back on her special blanket, and drove to the vet.  Thankfully, she didn’t appear to be in pain, and she fell peacefully to sleep in our arms when the vet administered the anesthesia.

Everyone who met Promise seemed to be irresistibly drawn to her.  Initially it was her striking beauty– those big dark eyes fringed with mascara-like lashes bordered with swirls of tan and black.  That pure white ruff of collar, chest and front legs, the bluish-grey back of fur so silky and soft you couldn’t keep your hands off it.

But she was more than just a pretty face.  Promise was a real people-lover.  She would greet people, lean against them, smile her doggy, pink-lipped smile, and wiggle her bottom with its stump of a tail so vigorously you’d think she’d lose her balance.  With other dogs, she was mostly indifferent.  But if you were two-legged, you got the royal welcome.  If you happened to enter a room where her stuffed toys were handy—green bear, fat rabbit, dust ball, road-kill kitty and many others, she would select one and bring it to you, twisting and turning and rubbing her body against your knees while inviting you to scratch her rump and admire, but not touch, her toy of the moment.

And oh my, the sounds she would make!  All manner of low whines, eager moans, throaty groans, and passionate pants, a vocalization more diverse than that of most babies, all to let you know that you were the best thing that ever happened to her, that you just made her day by entering the room, that her life was now worth living because you had arrived.

She was smart, too.  Like most Australian Shepherds, she learned a surprisingly large number of human words.  All you had to do was say, “do your go-go,” and she would dutifully trot outside and squat in the grass to squeeze out a few drops, whether she had to go or not.  This amazed the vets, who gathered around to witness this command performance whenever a urine sample was needed.

Like all working dogs, Promise had jobs.  Fetching the paper was one she looked forward to every morning during our coffee time.  At the ranch, she cleared geese of the grass at our wedding site and chased elk off our hay field in Big Valley (you can watch her on Youtube:  “Promise, the elk-chasing cow dog.”)  If you ever said the word “elk” or “geese,” even in normal conversation, her ears would leap to attention, and eager whine would escape her throat, and she’d be ready to go to work.

She never got the hang of cattle herding.  Instinctively she knew she was supposed to take this on, but she got too excited and would bark and watch me rather than focus on the cattle.  She was expecting me to give direction, which I was untrained to do, so we never quite became a cattle droving team.

The flip side was that she almost never ran off and disappeared for long periods of time.  She seemed so devoted, and so focused on Linda and me that she never wanted to leave our side.  She would get upset if Linda and I went off in different directions.  “Stay together, we’re a pack,” she would say in dog language.  If she was alone with one of us, she would follow us from room to room, and lie or sit as close as she could to wherever we were working.

When we drank coffee in the morning on the couch, she would lie as close as she could.  She knew better than to climb on the furniture, but she would now and then test these limits by casually putting a paw up on our legs, then, if no one pushed her down, the other front leg would come up, than, sneakily she would edge forward, hind legs still on the floor, until as much of her body as possible would be in our laps.  Hey, as long as her back feet were still on the floor, it wasn’t really getting on the furniture, was it?

The hardest two days for me came after her diagnosis, when her eyes would follow me around the room as she lay on her doggy bed, too weak to pad around after me.

We buried Promise under a ponderosa pine tree on Memory Hill beside the J-house at the ranch.  Sylvan Dale staff members helped dig the hole in the hard-pan dirt, which resisted our pick and shovel efforts as if reluctant to accept her furry body.  We tossed some of her toys, a rose and a pine cone in with her before covering her with soil and flat sandstones.  Later, someone left a can with sunflowers beside the boulder beside her grave.

Promise had a good life and a gentle death.  We will miss her.


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Can you invent a term for what these pigs do? Enter our Naming Contest Today!

Unloading the pigs in the pasture


When Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm put his pigs to work making compost out of the manure and wood chips in his barn, he coined the term, “Pigerator” to describe what they do.

We need a new term to describe the work pigs are doing to one of our pastures at Sylvan Dale Ranch.

The pasture is an unproductive swath of sod-bound fescue just south of our Big Valley Lakes. The forage lacks variety because the fescue chokes out any other plants that try to sprout there. Our cattle graze it every year, but the soil is compacted and the growth is meager. This pasture badly needs regeneration.

The traditional remedy is to spray the old grass with herbicide to kill it, then plow, disk, harrow, reseed, and fertilize, then let the new pasture grow for a year to get established. Unfortunately, this method harms soil fertility. As an alternative, we tried mob grazing with cattle. By packing a large number of 1300 lb. cows into a small area of pasture, we hoped the churning impact of cow hooves would damage the fescue enough to allow a new seed mixture, broadcast on the ground and “planted” by the cows, to germinate and add some variety to the pasture.

It didn’t work. That fescue sod is tough!

Enter the pigs, courtesy of Spring Kite Farm, a new Sylvan Dale agri-partner. Michael Baute and Meghan are young farmers based in Ft. Collins, Colorado. For several years they have successfully grown vegetables to supply local customers and restaurants, and were looking for more land to lease in order to expand operations and introduce pigs, chickens and goats into their mix of offerings. Sylvan Dale Ranch raises grass-fed, grass-finished beef, along with enough hay to fuel our horse heard and get the cattle through the winter. Why not join forces with Spring Kite Farm and together, create a truly holistic, comprehensive agriculture operation?

At some point during these discussions it dawned on us that pigs might be able to do what the cows couldn’t: churn up the pasture enough to weaken or destroy the fescue as a prelude to re-seeding. Pigs don’t just graze, they root. Those amazing snouts might turn enough soil and gobble up enough of those pesky fescue rhizomes to open up the sod for new plants. Worth a try. We decided to start small to see if it works

You can see the results in this video https://youtu.be/oXgHcUfSfpU. Pretty impressive, we think. Pigs doing the work of machines. What should we call them? What should we call the work they are doing? We’ve started googling synonyms for “plowing” and for “pigs” to come up with ideas, but we haven’t got there yet. Here’s where you come in.

We invite you to a naming contest! Use the “Comments” feature on this blog to send in your entry. A distinguished panel of judges will select the winner!