Dave Whittlesey and his family purchased some ranch land in the late 60s in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They leased it out until 1976, when Dave decided to retire from his Denver carpet installation business and become a cattle rancher. Dave managed the family ranch for two years. The first year the family netted $2000 profit and the next year they lost $2000 and Dave never even drew a salary. In 1978 Dave bought the family out of the ranch and began to look for alternative livestock to raise. He thought if he could raise higher valued livestock on the ranch he should be able to earn a living at it. So he went back to installing carpet in the booming ski town of Steamboat Springs to pay off the ranch. In 1981 he purchased his first Bison and Llamas. By 1984 he was able to retire again to be a full time rancher. In 1985 he added reindeer and in 1987 he added elk. He married Sue in June of 1986. The following May they had their first child, Seth. Four years later they had a daughter, Kelly.
Sue grew up a city girl in Chicago. She graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in accounting. After she moved to Denver to work for an accounting firm she earned her CPA certificate. One of her co-workers was a very close friend of Dave's and introduced the two of them.
Due to the size of the ranch, 160 acres, they decided in the early 90s to cut back on the different species they were raising which included Pere David Deer, Fallow Deer, Sitka Deer, Mule Deer, Llamas, Bison, and Elk. So now they concentrate on just Bison and Elk.
Shortly after Dave and Sue met, Dave became very active in the American Bison Association. He ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Directors and was an active member of the Sale Committee which was revamping the National Western Stock Show Gold Trophy Bison Sale at the time. That committee was responsible for turning the sale into a high class high quality sale. He also became a member of the bison industries contingent to the United States Animal Health Association's annual meeting.
Sue served as a board member and treasurer of the American Bison Association the year after Dave's term was over. This was the same year that Seth was born and the same year Sue bottle raised her first bison calf, Tilly. That was also the year that Dave started to build their new house at the Steamboat ranch.
Dave did not want to raise elk, but in 1986 he had over 200 wild elk move in on his 160 acre ranch during the summer. They wiped out his entire hay crop so he approached the Colorado Division of Wildlife for forage damages. They told him he would need to document how many head were on the ranch at all times and how long were they eating. They made it impossible to be able to document what they required to get damages. So they really got Dave's back up and he decided to bite the bullet and began building fence for elk the next summer. And he has been a thorn in their side ever since. In 1989 someone mailed him a copy of a document from the DOW stating how they were going to ban elk ranching. A number of the people that received the document, including Dave, got together in April of 1989 and formed the Colorado Elk and Game Breeders Association. They elected Steve Wolcott President and Dave Vice President and that is how they became friends. Later, they found out that they both had attended the same high school, East High School in Denver. Steve was one year ahead of Dave.
Dave was elected President of Colorado Elk and Game Breeders Association, serving from March 1993 to March 1995. During this same period Sue was appointed Secretary/Treasurer of the association. Their two biggest accomplishments during their terms of office were the moving of regulatory authority for elk ranching from the Colorado Division of Wildlife to the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the national benefits of elk ranching campaign. Sue was kept very busy answering questions about elk ranching during the six months that CEGBA had articles printed in agricultural publications throughout the nation. Dave was down at the state Capitol three days a week from January through May when the bill was finally signed by the governor. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Sue kept the members of the association abreast of the status of the bill and when they needed to be at the Capitol for meetings.
In February of 1995, Sue was elected to a three year term as a board member of North American Elk Breeders Association. The board elected her to serve as Treasurer for three years. She was the first woman to serve on the board and the only person to serve three consecutive years as an officer.
During this same period of time Dave was busy traveling to other states to help them deal with fish and game agencies, animal health issues, and regulatory issues. These states included North and South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington D.C., Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, California, and Alabama. He has been attending the United State Animal Health Association annual meeting since 1987. In 1992 he was appointed to the executive committee of this association to represent North American Elk Breeders Association and has served on that board ever since. He also has talked or corresponded with regulatory authorities in Louisiana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio.
In December of 1995, Dave, Sue and Steve Wolcott formed the Elk and Bison Company. The main business purpose was to create and manage the National Western Stock Show Select Elk Sale. After having to design and build a complex portable elk handling system for the auction they realized that they could build and market these systems for breeders personal handling systems.
Due to rapid development of land in Steamboat Springs, Dave and Sue began to look for a new location for their ranch. In December of 1998 they purchased 320 acres from fellow elk breeders, Marvin and Billie White, located near Hotchkiss, CO. Due to the time needed to operate this bigger ranch and to be able to spend more time with their growing children, they sold their share of the Elk and Bison Company to Linda and Steve Wolcott in August 2000.
While at the NAEBA convention in 2001 Sue was nominated and installed as a director of the Elk Research Council and as Chief Financial Officer. The Elk Research Council is the research funding arm of the elk industry. She also became the Communications Coordinator of the Western States Elk Alliance.
Dave was elected to the board of the Colorado Bison Association in 2001 and they will be hosting the 2002 Summer CBA conference at their ranch.
Dave and Sue feel that the next phase of the elk industry needs to be to develop a viable meat and by-product business. So they are currently working on developing an elk and bison meat market and by-product business of their own.
They welcome visitors and callers at their ranch. To contact them or for more information about elk or bison ranching:
Dave and Sue Whittlesey
High Wire Ranch
2749 M50 Road
Hotchkiss, CO 81419