Ranchers maintain lifestyle as Summit County grows, changes
Colby Pace has the rare privilege of spending his days doing what he loves.
A typical day for Pace starts around 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until 10 p.m. Pace rises with the sun for nearly two months each year and he has maintained the same schedule since he was 17.
The 40-year-old, third-generation rancher inherited his grandfather’s ranch in Coalville as a junior in high school.
"I started with 10 cows and we have built to 600," Pace said. "It took me 20 years to build this, but it has paid off."
Pace owns and operates Half Circle Cross Ranch in Chalk Creek. He owns approximately 5,000 acres and operates nearly 18,000 more. He employs two full-time employees year-round and three part-time employees in the summer.
Pace, like other cattle ranchers in Summit County, faces a host of challenges and outside pressures in the ever-evolving industry in a climate that tends to favor cattle ranching over dairy farming. From governmental encroachment and economic pressure from developers to rapidly developing technology, ranchers are constantly searching for ways to adapt and maintain the lifestyle that they love.
Every day during the summer months, Pace makes the rounds with his two boys, 13 and 8, grooming them for a new age of ranching.
The industry is a "little different" than in the past, Pace said, with new technology constantly altering the way day-to-day business is conducted.
Mounting health concerns about beef contamination have led to "ID tags" implanted in the beef for "cattle traceability," Pace said.
Even marketing has changed. It’s now encouraged for ranchers to upload livestock videos for Internet and auction sales.
In 2013, crop and animal production accounted for approximately $21.3 million of Summit County’s gross regional product, 1 percent of the county’s overall production.
Ranching is an important business in Summit County, according John Blazzard, president of the county’s chapter of the Utah Farm Bureau.
Ranchers ship thousands of cattle and sheep each year, he explained in an email to The Park Record. Some also tout the county as having the "best mink farmers" in the country.
"Cattle and other livestock do very well in this mountain valley, gaining several pounds each day," Blazzard wrote.
It has been an especially profitable year for cattle ranchers, including fifth-generation farmer Chris Ure. Ure owns a cow/calf operation of approximately 300 "mother cows" on nearly 600 acres in the Kamas Valley.
"This year, cattle prices are at a record high," he said. "It’s a great year to own cattle, no question about it."
Glen Brown, Hoytsville resident and decades-long dairy farmer, said beef prices are the most viable he’s seen in recent years.
"Beef is the strongest by far today, but the prices have been very good the last few years," Brown said. "And it looks good for the immediate future because we have a shortage, so we are doing very well."
However, with thousands of acres of mountainous terrain producing short growing seasons, it isn’t always conducive to every form of ranching.
Brown runs one of four dairy farms in the county, but said he remembers when Summit County had more than 100.
"It’s a pretty good place to dairy, as far as climate, but you have to buy a lot of feed," Brown said. "And that makes it uneconomical to do. You can’t survive financially."
Unable to turn a profit, Ure sold his dairy business nearly two years ago.
"Summit County is one of the worst counties in order to try and do agriculture," he said. "It’s great grass country for range cattle for summer. But when we had the dairy, we were trucking in 100 percent of our feed for our dairy cows. We couldn’t compete with the guys who have their own hay and corn grown.
While the industry is "alive and well," as Blazzard put it, it faces several outside threats from government and private entities. Farmers say they are concerned with the sustainability of the industry.
"Probably the greatest pressure is coming from loss of available land and forage due to development sprawl. Our livelihood depends on having enough grass to feed the animals," Blazzard said. "Usually when subdivisions pop up, farming and ranching start having problems ranging from being able to get irrigation water through the development, to complaints about noise, smells etc. Everyone likes the rural lifestyle but they work hard to change it."
Agricultural landowners are protected through local, state and federal laws, but are constantly under pressure by "environmentalists, the government and developers," Ure said.
"Where the threat really comes with us is we have people who want to move here and they move here because of the big open pastures and all that stuff, but then they think they have the right to tell you what to do to your property," Ure said. "I’m like the loose cannon in the Planning Commission. I want to give everyone their property rights.
"The reason why I’m pushing for what I’m doing is if we have our property rights and we are able to do things with our property, we can be creative and we can survive," he continued. "People don’t understand that in our industry you don’t zone property to try and protect agriculture. You zone property to what makes economic sense. That’s our biggest detriment is the government. We are so subsidized."
Ure sits on the East Side Planning Commission, which is in the process of working with county staff to reconfigure the East Side zoning designations.
"Growth is inevitable," he said. "You won’t stop it. But you can try and do the best you can to protect yourself against what is coming in and work with people."
As farms and property change hands, Ure and Pace’s generation is starting to pick up where their fathers left off. But, Ure said the interest is waning.
"My generation does not want to farm anymore," he said. "It’s one of them deals where it has to be a passion because you won’t get rich off of it. Those that want to stay, they will be successful and they will survive."
Ure said he’s in it for the "long-haul." He said he tried working as an electrician for about 10 years after high school, but was spending more of his time at the farm.
"So I walked away. I walked away from a salary where I was making double what I am now, but it was the best move of my life," he said. "This is the happiest time I’ve ever had.
"You are your own boss," he explained. "You go out and spend all day in the springtime and the fall. You put in long hours and are running on four or five hours of sleep. But the thing is, you are starting to see new life and what Mother Nature has created. You start to see your hard work developing from the year prior."
Most people don’t understand what it takes to get the food from the farm to their plate, Ure said, urging people if they see a farmer to "stop and talk to them."
"Don’t be a stranger. Learn things," Ure said. "The biggest thing is stop and talk to people who are in the industry and learn what it takes.
‘Don’t wave to us with one finger, do it with all five," Ure joked.
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East Side mayors say the Summit County COVID-19 related restrictions are experimenting with their businesses’ busy season.