New life is sign of spring

Driving through La Plata County, one can’t help but notice all the fresh little faces of all different colors with big eyes and wobbly legs. It’s that time of year again: spring calving for area ranchers.

At the Zellitti family ranch, southeast of Durango, it’s in full swing.

Barry Zellitti, his wife, Martha, and his brother, Terry, literally have their hands full dealing with about 150 mostly Angus, Hereford and mixed-breed mother cows.

All through the day and night, calves emerge. When they do, an identifying tag is placed on their ears and then a close eye is kept on calf and mother.

The Zellitti ranch was first homesteaded in 1902 by Barry’s great uncle and grandfather near County Road 300. Barry’s father, Anthony Zellitti, and his mother, Marilyn, still are active and the bosses on the ranch.

Barry, Terry and their brother Gary were raised around cattle, working in the fields past dark and then coming in to milk the family’s dairy cows. The family called it quits in the dairy business in 1998, and now are just in the hay and beef cattle business. Gary has his own ranch operations just down the road.

“The market is pretty good right now for heifers since Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico got some moisture and ranchers are starting to rebuild their herds,” said Barry Zellitti. “I think this is the greatest life there is: living and raising kids on the farm. It teaches the kids about the cycle of life and the rewards of hard work.”

La Plata County ranks 38 out of 64 counties in the state in value of agricultural products sold, said Christy Lightcap, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The county sold $19.8 million worth of agricultural products in 2007, according to the last survey available. Cattle was the No. 1 commodity, then hay and nursery stock, Lightcap said.

Tom Sabel, an agricultural statistician with the USDA/Colorado Agriculture Statistics Service, said that as of January 2011, there were about 21,000 head of cattle in La Plata County with 13,200 breeding cows.

La Plata County ranks 26th for the number of cattle in the state.

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