By Darrell Arnold
HUERFANO- As Huerfano County grows, pronghorn herds may start to be affected. One of the worst things that can affect pronghorns is fencing. Pronghorns don’t jump fences, they crawl under or through them.
"If anybody ever put up a sheep fence between Westcliffe and Walsenburg," declares Brown, "it would kill a lot of antelope. Back before Tom Redmond bought what is now Wolf Springs Ranch, west of Gardner, the guy who owned the ranch built a real tight five-strand barbed-wire fence. The bottom wire was strung real low. We had to cut holes in that fence so the winter herd could migrate south. Once we explained what the problem was to the landowner, he was okay with it. He just didn’t realize that his fence was an impediment or that the pronghorns had to migrate through there."
Another issue with many ranchers is their perception of the impact large numbers of pronghorns have on grass needed for their cattle. "Right now, there are about a hundred antelope concentrated on out northeast of Aguilar," explains Brown. "The ranchers are upset with that high number of antelope. Their first thought is “There goes my grass."
"But wildlife studies clearly show that antelope don’t eat much grass. The amount of grass in their diet is about 10 percent. Cactus is 11 percent, and forbes and brush make up most of the rest. Pronghorns have to have higher protein than grass provides, because they can’t carry so much bulk, like a cow can.
"Pronghorn stomachs are small, and they have to be able to get up and run. They can’t lay around and digest large amounts of grass all the time. They just don’t eat that much high-fiber, bulky food, which is the grass."
To further illustrate his point, Brown calls on personal experience. "I found an antelope one time that some dogs had chewed on and torn up. I put him in my yard, inside a snowfence pen that was half again as big as my pickup. I kept him in there for six weeks. It was just natural vegetation inside that pen. After six weeks, the grass was still standing. The prickly pear cactus disappeared right away, and he ate the mountain mahogany back to stems as big as your finger. I was feeding him alfalfa hay. He ate everything else in that enclosure, but not that grass. These ranchers worry about them eating their grass, but they’re really not.
"That’s why buffalo and antelope coexisted so well throughout history. The buffalo ate the grass and the antelope ate the other stuff."