Barbara Lawlor, Peak to Peak. People who have lived in the Gilpin County/Nederland area for awhile have known Bill and Kay Lorenz to be the owners, managers, waitstaff, bartenders and the openers and closers of the Black Forest Inn in Black Hawk and the Black Forest Restaurant in Nederland.
Their constant grace and integrity has made their restaurant a destination dining experience for loyal customers. The Lorenz’s have also served their communities in government and various charitable entities. They have employed generations of local kids and young adults.
What most people don’t see is the other side of the Lorenz’s, the rancher side, the cattle raising side of the couple. Bill owns a couple hundred head of black Angus cows and in the summer time, he leases local pastures to allow the herd to graze in mountain meadows.
His philosophy is “Why pay for and transport feed to the cows when we can bring the cows to the feed?”
It took awhile to figure things out, not being raised in a ranching family, but now the Lorenz’s have the cattle business down to a science.
Bill and Kay were married in October of 1960 in Evanston, Illinois. They moved to Black Hawk and entered into the restaurant business, building the Black Forest, one of the largest, most successful enterprises in the small mining town. Bill says he bought the Ekker ranch, 120 acres in mid-county, while on a wild goose chase. A Texan owned it previously, naming it the Lone Star Ranch.
The Ekkers wanted to retire and sold the ranch with the understanding that they could live there as long as God would let them, but the altitude and failing health forced them to leave.
Bill says, “I didn’t trust money at the time so I decided to invest in land. God doesn’t make any more of that. I decided to buy cattle in case something went wrong with the business.”
The Lorenz Ranch is located across from Roy’s Last Shot. From the highway one can see the sprawling meadow with the creek and pond running through it, the peach/lavender painted ranch house and the barn and outbuildings, a picturesque image of times past.
Bill bought his first small herd of cows from a man in Golden Gate Canyon. The man was a Humane Society officer who had rescued the cattle. It was a mixed herd of rejects and they didn’t do well. The Lorenz’s hooked up with Gilpin County residents Eiven and Jean Jacobson and they raised cattle together for the next 15 years.
It was a learning process, figuring out what worked and what didn’t. Bill purchased his first bull, a Hereford white-faced giant, 2,400 pounds, named Big Dime who produced beautiful calves. The babies, however, were too big and were born too early, in the spring blizzards.
“There are a lot of hidden problems, with raising cattle,” says Bill. “You learn bit by bit.”
One year, he hired a man to cut the hay on the ranch in return for half of the crop. When the man finished, he took all the good feed and left the sticks and stalks for Bill. When the Lorenz’s went on vacation to Mexico that year, the man came and took the rest of the hay. That was the last time Bill cut hay.
At that time corn was about $3.25 a bushel and he trucked it in. When the government decided to buy corn for ethanol, the price went up to $9.80 a bushel, which was too expensive to buy for feed. Bill looked around and made contact with a few farmers and ranchers in eastern Colorado, near the Kansas border. They were honest, hard-working people who agreed to take the herd during the winter months, from the end of October to mid-June, when the mountain grass was ready to eat. Each year Bill had to wait until after the first hard frost down below because alfalfa is poisonous to cattle and the corn crop wasn’t finished.
“I got more cows and made sure they came up here and cut the hay for me. They cut and they fertilized the crop and got rid of it.”
Bill’s herd grew. He says he used the land to protect him from being taxed. Red meat production offered lower taxes and the business helped set up a nest egg so he could send his kids to college. There were five Lorenz children, three girls and two boys.
By this time Bill was raising black Angus cows, who were easier to keep. He had learned that pasturing the cows up here was more viable. Calves are usually born in February and March in their eastern Colorado home and then spend their growing up period in the mountains, at the Magnolia Road Reynolds Ranch meadow, Los Lagos, Rollinsville, Eureka Ranch and the Central City Reservoir area.
The cows and their calves are trucked 210 miles to their mountain homes. At the end of the summer, the calves average about 450-500 pounds. The calves are sold to a sales barn where they are auctioned off and sent to the slaughterhouse, the packer, and then the retailer. The price per pound is set according to the Chicago Board of Trade. A two-year old, weighing up to 800 pounds, brings in from $2.36 to $2.45 a pound.
Lorenz cattle now graze on nine different pastures in the mountain areas. Bill says he used to do a lot of the work himself, but a bum knee and a bad back have left him doing the paperwork and making sure the animals are well-treated and everything comes and goes on time.
“I have had good people working with me and now their sons and grandchildren are doing the work. We have had a good relationship all of these years. They are from Mexico and were part of the the 1980 Ronald Reagan Amnesty.”
Bill says ranching became a perpetual thing: he bought the cows and they had the calves and he raised them. It was like having a savings account.
“The cows are better than a bank. When I am broke I can sell a cow or two and also get an agricultural tax write off. And, meanwhile, I always have the real estate.”