Students receive hands-on lessons in history, ranch life |

Students receive hands-on lessons in history, ranch life

Hayden Elementary School student Dorian Hotchkiss sticks his head through a gate as he checks out one of the chutes at the Coyote Creek Ranch near Hayden Wednesday as part of Ranch Days. Routt County students were invited to working ranches in the area to learn about the world of ranching and its long history.
John F. Russell

— Just as Mikenzie Kelley reaches out to pet one of the Morgan mares of Coyote Creek Ranch, the horse neighs, eager for a treat, and Mikenzie smiles with delight.

Across the way at another stall, a giddy group of fourth and fifth graders laugh in unison as one of the ranch’s geldings taps one of the boy’s shoulders, slyly wooing the crowd for another treat.

“I’ve never been on a ranch like this before,” said Mikenzie, a Hayden Elementary fourth-grader. “I like learning about the equipment and the animals. Getting to pet the horses is a lot of fun, and I really love the dogs.”

Life on a ranch is not something many students are accustomed to, said Christy Belton, who leases and runs the Hoogendoorn Ranch with her husband, Matt, but events like the Routt County Cattlewomen’s annual Ranch Days, gives the youngsters a chance to step out of the classroom and learn about ranch life through a hands-on experience.

“I think every year people in our society get a little more disconnected from agriculture,” said Jeff Meyers, who owns and runs Coyote Creek Ranch with his wife, Erika Murphy. “For some of these kids, this might be their only chance for a long time to understand how animal agriculture works on a ranch.”

On Wednesday, Meyers and Murphy welcomed about 65 fourth- and fifth-graders from Hayden Elementary to their ranch to teach them about ranch life, including why cowboys wear chaps and cowboy hats.

“This town is not just skiing or city life,” Murphy said. “Ranching is a huge part of Routt County and we want to make sure these kids understand that and then also have an appreciation of why we raise cattle and how this land here specifically facilitates that.”

As the students arrived at the ranch, they were split into groups and navigated through various learning stations. Murphy led the lesson on horse breeds, tack and ranching attire from boot stitching, the silk scarf, belt buckle (originally used for protection from the horn of the western saddle) and the many uses of the cowboy hat.

Working with the cattle and handling of the cattle, Meyers talked about working with cattle and talked about the Angus breed, which Coyote Creek Ranch is known for. He explained how they kept calves warm during the winter months and how they weighed the newborns. He also let the kids walk through the different gates and chutes the ranchers use to handle the cattle.

The students also enjoyed a hay ride, and at lunch time, the kids participated in a roping demonstration and watched the cattle dogs in action.

“Ranch Days teaches and reinforces things that we’ve taught all year, but in a very natural, real world setting,” said Kezia Zuber, fourth-grade teacher at Hayden Elementary School. “It’s important for them to understand where food comes from and that it doesn’t just magically appear in a grocery store.”

Students from Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools also participated in Ranch Days at various ranches throughout the area.

At the Hoogen Doorn Ranch, Belton said their elementary school visitors learned about branding and roping and participated in a scavenger hunt with various tools and ranching items hidden away for students to find.

“We just think it’s a really important part of Steamboat and the heritage that it’s known for,” Belton said. “So I think it’s important to keep these kids at least exposed to this kind of life and practice, and it’s an effort that the Cattlewomen have been doing for years.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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