Hutchinson Homestead Blog

Animals On the Ranch

With these longest days of summer upon us, the majority of Hutchinson Ranch cows are now in their summer grazing pastures in the San Luis Valley and Marshall Pass, and the fields on the ranch are quickly growing tall, destined to be next winter’s hay crop.

Bull Cottontop Mills Earl Burnett 1904Life on the ranch, however, doesn’t slow down, but continues to focus on irrigating, checking cows and caring for the few animals that remain on the ranch year-round. Whether cattle, horses, or hard-working herding dogs, animals play a significant role in ranching and farming activities throughout the year, and a primary role of a farmer or rancher is to care for these animals on a daily basis.

Guidestone provides children with the opportunity to learn more about animals that are raised on ranches through Animals On the Ranch Camp, a 3-day experiential camp held at the HH&LC.  Mid-June, fourteen kids spent three days exploring the variety of animals raised on a farm or ranch and the roles they play (Meat, Dairy, Fiber, Eggs, Work/ Transportation, Friendship). The group had direct experience working with cows, horses, goats, chickens, pigs, llamas, donkeys and a rabbit.  In addition, they had the opportunity to learn animal communication & physiology from a local large animal vet, dye natural fibers with local fiber artists who raise their own sheep, and learn about life on a historic dairy.

Hazel & chicken Baby Calf Nugget Llama pic






Agricultural learning experiences like this one help teach kids about where their food comes from, the skills it takes to grow and raise food, and the role agriculture plays in our community, both historically and today.  There is still time to register for other Farmhands Programs at the HH&LC this summer!

Please visit for program descriptions and to register!

Special thanks to the following guest presenters that helped make Animals On the Ranch Camp such a wonderful learning experience for our Farmhands Campers!

Abby HutchinsonHarold & Judy Dr. Annie
Harold & Judy Starbuck
Dr. Annie Schultz
Nancy Hunt
Jane Steiner
Robin Ziperman
Tom McConaghey

The Irrigation Ditches Are On!  A Rancher’s Rite of Spring

Water is at the heart of any agricultural community.  Here in our mountain valley, as the weather warms the land, a true rite of spring for the area’s ranches, and indeed all of us, is when the pastures begin greening up and the irrigation ditches begin to flow.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum Tour
Arkansas River Basin Water Forum Tour

In April, right as the area’s ditches were getting turned on, Salida was host to the 2016 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, bringing people from across the state to address strategies and opportunities for managing the valley’s water resources. As part of this event, participants had the opportunity to tour the Hutchinson Homestead and Learning Center with Art Hutchinson and Guidestone.  This tour highlighted the current and historic water use and practices on the ranch and provided a venue for discussion around preserving our agricultural heritage and Guidestone’s programs that are dedicated to growing farmers and supporting a vibrant agricultural future in the valley.

As highlighted on the tour, water use and practices on The Hutchinson Ranch and Hutchinson Homestead & Learning Center (HH&LC) have a long-standing history that extends over 140 years.  The Hutchinson Ditch #1, hand dug and finished in 1877, today still flows along the north fields of the Hutchinson Ranch and through the heart of the Homestead. This ditch is considered priority right #65 decreed to Annabel & Joseph Hutchinson. Other historic ditches that feed the Hutchinson Ranch include the Hutchinson Ditch #2 (1879) and the Del Monte Ditch (1881)

In the Salida-area where precipitation averages only 9.5 inches a year, not only are these ditches what make hay production on the ranch and other area agriculture possible, they are also quite a feat of construction!  At the time these ditches were dug, methodology and tools included a Ditch Board (or Ditch Leveler), a 16 foot length of board with a ½ inch drop that had to be hand-sighted in order to ensure a consistent drop for water flow, followed by a draft horse pulling a Scraper (like a giant spoon) to dig the soil out of the ditch.  All this for miles from their parent waters of the South Arkansas and Poncha Creek!   This valley remains green and productive thanks to the annual runoff of the high country snowpack and the ditch-digging efforts of these early pioneers.

Hutchinson Ditch #1
Hutchinson Ditch #1
The north pastures of the Hutchinson Ranch before irrigation, c1870
The north pastures of the Hutchinson Ranch before irrigation, c1870

While the Hutchinson’s upper pasture now has a pivot irrigation system, the majority of their meadows and pastures are still flood irrigated as they were when the homestead was first established.  This low-tech method requires using tarps to build a series of small dams along the ditch until water builds up and floods out over the field. As tarps are moved down the ditch, the water follows, ensuring the whole field gets covered.  The water helps grow the crops, and a good percentage of it percolates back through the soil and into the lower gravel layers, gradually returning to the nearby river.

As part of summer camp opportunities at the HH&LC, kids get to participate in this age-old technique.  What better way to learn about traditional and current ranching techniques than to experience it first-hand, building a dam in a creek and following the water into the field.  Needless to say, kids love it!  To learn more about summer camp opportunities at the HH&LC for kids ages 5 and up, please CLICK HERE!

Ranch campers setting a tarp
Ranch campers setting a tarp

The HH&LC Visitor Center also has additional information and photos regarding irrigation and other ranching practices past and present.  Beginning May 17, the Homestead Visitor Center will be open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-2pm. Come learn more, see the ranch’s old Ditch Board and stay for a tour!

For more information on all of our summer programs and events, please visit

Spring in the Life of a High Country Rancher

1901210_10101470125603493_928156249_nSpring is here, and in an agricultural region, an iconic image that heralds this season is baby livestock of all kinds.  Here in Chaffee County, as one travels the county roads, this is most easily seen in the pastures of local cattle ranches, where you’ll find herds of momma cows and their calves, frolicking, nursing, resting in the sunshine. The Hutchinson Ranch is no exception.

Although ranching practices have evolved over time, the heart of ranching has always been caring for animals, producing food, and stewarding the land. New techniques and technologies have made some ranching jobs easier, and yet, many of today’s ranching tools and skills, especially in the high country, are the same as they were over a hundred years ago when the Hutchinsons began ranching.

The year begins with late winter calving when ranchers keep an around-the-clock watch on their pregnant cows and take care of the calves once they are born.  Abby Hutchinson’s (6th generation) herd started calving the end of January, and they are almost done, which Abby states is record time this year! In late spring, new calves are gathered and branded before being moved with their mothers to fatten up in higher mountain pastures.

Like 100 years ago, before summer fully arrives, fences will be checked, ditches cleared and pastures prepared for irrigating and growing hay.

Judy, Kathy, Annabel & HutchWant to be a part of the dedicated and enthusiastic team that helps share this and other Homestead stories to people of all ages?  Become a Homestead Volunteer!  There are many volunteer positions available to fit personal interests and time availability. For more information, click here, or contact Andrea: (719)239-0955 or

Also this year, Abby is arranging a workday to invite people to help clear ditches to prepare for irrigation season.  If you would like to follow in the footsteps of the Hutchinson Family, and participate in a tradition that goes back to the very earliest days of ranching in Chaffee County, please email

Be a part of a lasting agricultural tradition and participate in Spring on the Ranch!

Hutchinson Ranch Dream Becomes a Reality

Chaffee County Times
Posted: Saturday, June 8, 2013 8:00 am | Updated: 2:27 pm, Wed Jun 12, 2013.
Cailey McDermott, The Mountain Mail | 0 comments
“It’s excellent. It’s much, much better than I remember,” Dr. Wendell “Hutch” Hutchinson, 88, said during the grand opening of the historic Hutchinson Homestead Ranch and Learning Center Saturday. Hutchinson grew up on the ranch and for years talked about preserving the homestead as a museum and telling the history of high-altitude ranching. Read More…

‘Doc’ Hutchinson Dies at His Home

The Chaffee County Times
Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 7:37 pm
Arlene Shovald, Special to The Mountain Mail

The death of Dr. Wendell “Doc” Hutchinson leaves a void in Chaffee County in many ways.
“Doc” was not only the veterinarian for many families, but he was also active in the community and a noted historian until a few years ago when declining health got in the way.

He died Sept. 20 at his home, surrounded by his family, 5 days shy of his 90th birthday.

The Hutchinson family history began with “Doc’s” great-grandfather, Joseph Hutchinson, who was born in Huddersfield, England, in 1837 and came to American with his parents and four siblings in 1842.

An avid historian, “Doc” compiled the history of his family and other Chaffee County information in a book, “Under the Angel of Shavano,” which he co-authored with George Everett in 1963.

He had great admiration for his pioneer family and enjoyed telling anyone who would listen about the “olden days” when Ute Indians, including Chief Colorow and his band, would stop by the Hutchinson farmhouse and partake of his great-grandmother Annabel Hutchinson’s biscuits. “Doc” would chuckle as he related the story of how Chief Colorow stated he was “heap hungry” and once ate Annabel’s biscuits directly from the oven and burned his mouth.

Joseph and Annabel were the parents of a son, Harold. “Doc” was born to Harold’s son, Mills, and his wife, Myrtle, in 1924.

One of the things “Doc” was pleased and proud about was the restoration of the old Hutchinson Homestead on U.S. 50, which is now open to the public following 12 years of restoration.

There on the ranch property, which originally belonged to Joseph and Annabel Hutchinson, the general public as well as school children and other groups can get a firsthand view into how agriculture, ranching and home life were in the late 1800s and into the early 20th century.

The original homestead was designated as a Colorado Centennial Farm in 1987, becoming one of 36 Colorado farms in operation by the same family for at least 100 years.

“I knew Doc Hutchinson for a good many years,” said Frank McMurry. “He was a real pioneer for this whole valley. Not only was he a good friend, he was also a good man all the way around. This is a loss to all of us. He was known by everybody in agriculture in Chaffee County.”

Jane Ferraro, a classmate in the Salida High School class of 1942, said, “I remember Wendell as always being a very serious student, very conscientious about his studies. Our classmates respected and liked him. He was a private person but very nice. I had an English class with him and tried to get ahead of him, but that was hard to do.”

In later years the class of 1942 held reunions every 5 years, including a couple in the backyard of the Hutchinson home.

“We were a very close class,” Ferraro said. “Wendell was able to come to breakfast at our last reunion 2 years ago with a caregiver and we were happy so see him. Our class started out with 108 and ended with 92, and we were the largest graduating class at SHS at that time. We’ve kept track of each other all these years, and it’s sad to lose another classmate.”