Chico Basin Ranch offers free ground beef to Colorado families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cars line up on a dirt road in front of a rural fire station in Hanover, Colorado, about 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. Keeping social distancing boundaries, drivers check in with masked representatives from nearby Chico Basin Ranch and then pull forward where another person hands them a grocery sack containing 10 one-pound packages of ground beef.
In April, more than 1,500 families and six community centers affected by the coronavirus pandemic have benefitted from the ranch’s drive-by beef donations, and there are many more on the list to serve in the coming weeks.
Chico Basin is one of five working ranches in Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota and Texas, under the nonprofit arm of the Ranchlands Foundation. The foundation aims to develop future ranch managers and an appreciation of sustainable ranching and preservation through its program based on working on the ranches it manages. During the pandemic, the foundation saw a way it could help local families who were having a hard time buying groceries and making ends meet due to job losses and furlough.
“We saw it as a way we could make a really big impact on families who are struggling right now [due to the coronavirus pandemic],” says Tess Leach of Chico Basin Ranch. “We’ve had people pull up and accept the meat with tears in their eyes. It’s heartwarming to do something positive during this tough time.”
In late March, Leach sent information on the beef giveaway to local schools, asking teachers and administrators to pass it along to families in need. Then she sent an email blast to 1,400 people within a 200-mile radius of the ranch and posted details on social media.
“That’s when it really started to grow legs,” she says. “The response was overwhelming. About 30 minutes after I sent the eblast out and made the post on social media, the emails started coming in. At first it was one every 10 minutes, but then it was one every minute. I woke up [the next morning] to over 400 emails in my inbox from families in need, and they’re still coming.”
There are currently 4,000 families along the Front Range and eastern plains of Colorado on the list to serve. To fulfill the needs of these families, the ranch is donating and processing cattle from its herd each week and has received more than $10,000 in donations to help with processing. Other local ranchers have joined the cause and donated cattle or meat.
“Everyone has been so generous and grateful,” says Leach. “Some of the people didn’t even realize the ranch was out here and what we do. We’ve had people asked how they can come volunteer or donate to the ranch when the pandemic is over.”
Owned by the Colorado State Land Board, Chico Basin is a multi-faceted ranch that principally raises livestock, as well as hosts events, hunting, fishing and birding opportunities, a leather goods, educational and artistic programs, and ranch management services. The family-managed operation spans 87,000 acres on which they raise commercial cattle and Beefmaster seedstock originally from the Lasater Foundation Herd in Matheson, Colorado. The ranch also raises and trains Quarter Horses through Ranchlands Horse Company. Throughout the year the ranch hosts concerts, artist workshops and art shows, camps and other educational experiences that see up to 2,000 students annually who learn about how ranching provides stewardship for its natural resources.
This year, however, many of its events have been cancelled due to the pandemic. On the ranching side, however, Leach says it’s “business as usual for daily operations,” even though there’s uncertainty about spring brandings and the dwindling market price of cattle.
“We just take it one week at a time,” says Leach. “Having the foundation gives us the opportunity and we’re in a position [to do so], especially with the livestock markets not doing so great. For a relatively low input we can help a lot of people, so this was a no-brainer for us.”
For more information and resources on coronavirus, check out Western Horseman‘s “A Horseman’s Guide to COVID-19.”