Photos: Ranching tradition makes a mark in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com
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Photos: Ranching tradition makes a mark in Routt County

Jeremy Youngs holds a calf that was just branded as his son Joe rewards the animal with a hug while taking part in branding at the Stanko ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The air around the Stanko Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs is filled with the dust created by moving cattle, the clanking of steel gates and the steady drone of calves calling out for their mothers. The noises are nothing new for longtime rancher Jim Stanko, who knows first-hand the rich history and traditions of branding.

“Branding has always been a neighborhood tradition,” Stanko said.

And while some things about branding have changed over the years, the need for a helping hand from neighbors and friends has not.

“We have always had a big crew,” he said. “For me, it’s more of a gathering.”

This year was no exception as neighbors and family came out to the ranch on Memorial Day weekend to help brand this year’s crop of calves in a process that took just over two hours.

“The brand we are using is Seven Through Seven. It was registered in 1906, and my grandfather purchased the brand in 1912,” Stanko said as he watched this year’s calves being guided through a pair of nearby calf tables that are used to catch the calf and then tilt the animal on its side where it is vaccinated, tagged and branded. The bulls are castrated.

On the Stanko Ranch, branding marks the end of a busy spring that includes the final days of feeding and calving seasons. In Routt County, the longtime traditions stretch from Pleasant Valley to Twentymile Park to Clark, where families and old–timers would get together each spring to put their marks on their cattle before sending them out to the hay meadows.

“It is pretty much a family affair,” Stanko said. “Branding is one thing in the cattle industry that’s hard to do by yourself, so you need the help of neighbors and friends.”

The branding process is constantly being adjusted and refined. For the second-straight year, the Stankos have moved away from the electric brands in favor of freeze branding, which is a process that freezes the hair follicles under a shaved patch of a calf’s flank. The hair grows back white.

Jim’s son Patrick said the process is less traumatic than the electric brand that has been used in the past. Patrick and his wife, Jan, introduced the process last spring and have stuck with it this time around. Patrick returned to the ranch several years ago after working for more than 20 years as an electrical engineer on the Front Range.

“I guess I knew that I would always come back,” said Patrick, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 1988. “It’s hard to say that you are going to give up a 100-year-old ranch.”

Like his dad before him, branding holds a special place.

“We look forward to it,” Patrick said. “It’s the first step, and you get to see the calves you go through, and it’s a just tradition.”

Dust fills the air on the Stanko Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs as cowboys and cowgirls go through the process of separating calves from the mothers during branding.
John F. Russell
Paul Youngs looks over the herd as he works on a strategy to separate the mama cows from their calves for branding.
John F. Russell
Jim Stanko lays out the game plan along with his son Patrick while branding at the Stanko Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell
Paul Youngs leads a group of calves into another pen where they will wait to get the Seven Through Seven brand before being reunited with their mothers. The tradition of branding, which is required, dates well back into the American West and has been used for generations to show ownership.
John F. Russell
Gone from the Stanko Ranch are the electric brands that have left their marks for generations. This is the second year these ranchers have used freeze branding, a branding process that involves the use of liquid nitrogen or dry ice and alcohol to cool a branding iron so that the iron may then be used to alter the hair follicle of an animal to remove the pigmentation or to remove the hair altogether.
John F. Russell
Josh Taylor encourages a small group of calves to move into a holding pen where they will wait to be vaccinated, tagged and branded.
John F. Russell
Jeremy Youngs guides a small group of calves into a holding pen on branding day at the Stanko Ranch where they will wait to be vaccinated, tagged and branded.
John F. Russell
One of the many volunteers who came out for branding waits to go to work at the Stanko Ranch.
John F. Russell
Josh Taylor guides a calf toward the calf table on branding day at the Stanko Ranch.
John F. Russell
Jan Stanko uses a freeze brand to mark a calf on the Stanko Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell
Cowboy Hobey Early keeps a watchful eye while taking part in branding day at the Stanko Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell
Scott Flower calms a calf as Ryan Scott uses a freeze brand to mark a new calf.
John F. Russell
Hobey Early secures a calf while it is branded at the Stanko Ranch.
John F. Russell
Ranchers at the Stanko Ranch us a freeze brand to leave the Seven Through Seven mark on a new calf.
John F. Russell
Branding is also the opportunity to give calves vaccinations.
John F. Russell
There is plenty of work to be done on the Stanko Ranch on branding day as friends, family and volunteers step in to take care of moving and separating calves, vaccinations, ear tags, branding and making sure each calf is documented before they head out to the meadows where they will spend the summer.
John F. Russell
Mitch Melander guides calf into a nearby pasture where they will be reunited with their moms.
John F. Russell
Cows relax in a hay meadow near an old barn on the Stanko Ranch.
John F. Russell

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.


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