Former dairy operation near Hayden honored as Centennial Ranch
A huge smile spreads across rancher Holly Blake’s face when she tells her favorite story about her late husband, Steven Blake, that takes place when he was about 5 years old at home on the family ranch north of Hayden.
Steven’s father, Donald Blake, rose before dawn to start milking the Holstein dairy cattle by hand each morning, and young Steven loved the dairy cows and would tag along. Steven’s favorite docile cow would be milked first and then lay down, and soon Steven would be asleep curled up next to the neck of the cow.
Six generations of Blake relatives — including Holly’s 1-year-old granddaughter, Ryleigh, and 4-year-old grandson, S.J. — have lived and worked on the original 166-acre ranch since 1905. The family raised dairy cattle from 1906 to 1971, stopping when the milk truck would no longer drive out for collection, Holly Blake said. She believes the ranch may have been the last working dairy operation in Routt County to sell milk into a wider dairy distribution system. The family now grows timothy and alfalfa hay along County Road 76.
Blake wanted to honor her husband’s love of the ranch and the request of her late mother-in-law, Olive Blake, to apply to be part of the official Colorado Centennial Farms and Ranches program. The centennial honor presented by History Colorado and the Colorado Department of Agriculture recognizes four categories of time-tested operations associated with the agricultural history of the state.
“I love this farm. I want it to stay in this family. I wanted to honor what the family had done to keep this going,” Blake said. “I wanted to fulfill my mother-in-law’s wishes and to give our kids some pride in the ranch.”
Now in its 36th year, Centennial Farms and Ranches honors operations that have belonged to the same family for at least 100 years and must be a working farm or ranch with a minimum of 160 acres. This year, nine Colorado farms and one centennial agribusiness were recognized at the Colorado State Fair in late August. An awards video with all winners is available at HistoryColorado.org.
The Blake Ranch is the 13th state-honored centennial operation in Routt County, said Lindsey Flewelling, preservation planner at History Colorado.
Previous ranches honored include Zehner and Crags in Hayden; Hitchens in Milner; Summer, Soash, Monger (Mountain View), Stanko and Hogue in Steamboat Springs; Redmond in Yampa; Brown in Clark; Perry in Toponas; and Sullivan near the Moffat and Routt County line.
“This is one of the capstone celebrations of agriculture in the state, recognizing the perseverance, the resilience, the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, land stewardship and food production throughout the country in so many instances,” said Kate Greenberg, Colorado commissioner of agriculture, at the celebration.
The flood-irrigated valley floor portion of the Blake Ranch runs approximately one mile along the Yampa River and produces timothy hay. The alfalfa hay field sits atop the adjacent bluff to the west.
The hands-on managers of the ranch are Holly’s daughter, Stephanie, and son-in-law, Aaron Haskins, who also operates Yampa Valley Metal Works custom welding and fabrication shop out of the ranch’s former tractor barn.
Next to barn and shop sits the original dairy barn that the family has preserved. Now, friendly cats and chickens are the remaining ranch animals.
An 1895 farmhouse from the original homesteading family before the Blakes was renovated and remodeled twice and now is Holly’s home. The small farmhouse sits next door to the newer and larger family home that Holly designed herself after going back to school to learn Computer-Aided Design. The larger home’s wraparound porch showcases a collection of artifacts saved from the historic dairy barn and is a relaxing place to watch the sunsets over the Yampa River.
“Across the nation, family farms and ranches, historic barns and other agricultural sites are disappearing at an alarming rate,” according to History Colorado. “The contributions of Colorado’s ranching and farming families have withstood the pressures of growth, changes in farming methods, drought and economic conditions to preserve these important pieces of our state’s commercial and cultural history.”
Blake said she is looking forward to hanging the Centennial Farms and Ranches designation metal sign next to the ranch entrance sign manufactured by her son-in-law.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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