Routt County ranchers host students for annual field trips
HAYDEN — About 60 Hayden students got a taste of ranch life up close Thursday, without all the hard work. That’s because it was a field trip to the Coyote Creek Ranch where ranchers Erika Murphy and husband, Jeff Meyers, know how to mix history, facts and fun with learning.
“What we really like best is their enthusiasm, because for us, this is every day,” said Murphy, president of the Routt County CattleWomen organization.
As Murphy started rounding up a group of kids in the horse barn, one girl leaned over to her friend.
“Watch and learn. I’ll tell you what’s going,” said the little girl.
Indeed, some of the Hayden elementary students have their own horses and animals but for others, visiting the ranch was eye opening.
Kids were chosen to go through “squeeze” cattle chutes, probably the only time you’ll hear someone tickled pink to be called a cow.
“Cameron, this is the day you’re getting branded,” laughed one student as the rancher “herded” Cameron Morrison and Peyton Baker into the chutes.
“Squeeze chutes make cattle feel more secure, like a mother’s hug,” Meyers told students as Cameron and Peyton found themselves demonstrating how sick cows are treated while being “squeezed” or “comforted” in a special chute.
The ranch visits, or Ranch Days, are part of the Routt County CattleWomen’s public outreach.
“We spend a lot of time promoting beef and teaching kids to know what it’s like to raise food,” Murphy said. “We also do a lot of fundraisers for education.”
This is the fourth time Coyote Creek Ranch has hosted field trips in the last eight years. The 1,200-acre ranch sits in a stunning valley southeast of Hayden and northwest of Oak Creek, near Routt County County Roads 27 and 37. The ranch raises Angus bulls and heifers for breeding, which they then sell to commercial herds.
The ranch dates back to 1885, and one of the history lessons for students involved a little craft home that sits on site.
“In the old days you could order houses online. Back then it was called the Sears catalog,” said Meyers.
“Wagons and mules brought it in” and the house was put together back in 1925 he told the kids. In fact, a ranch hand currently lives in the old Sears Roebuck Catalog home.
Murphy also went over the five brands and families that owned the old ranch at one time or another, with each kid getting to use a modern electric brand on ply board.
Ten-year-old Kayla Deaton liked the squeeze chutes because it makes branding easier, something that’s done the old-fashioned way at her home.
“We have calves, and one of us holds the feet while the other one sits on the neck, and then my dad brands them,” she explained to her friends.
Of course, horses seemed to be the students’ favorite part of the ranch tour, as several mares whinnied at being separated from a gelding.
“All the girl horses like him,” said Murphy.
And despite Murphy’s diplomatic definition of a gelding, a young voice could be heard at the back of the crowd.
“Oh, he’s a player.”
Never bored, the fourth- and fifth-grade students learned how ranchers help cows give birth; practiced roping skills with ranch hands; shoveled tarps along ditches as they learned how the ranch uses snowmelt to water their meadows; and hopped on tractors and equipment after a hayride.
The students also tracked down animals tagged with expensive transmitters by wildlife officials who keep tabs on Colorado’s wildlife.
“What an adorable deceased skunk,” exclaimed one student after finding an animal.
No worries mom and dad, all the animals were actually animal pelts hidden by wildlife officer Justin Pollock just for the ranch tour.
After lunch, the students wrapped up their visit with an incredible demonstration by Luke, one of Coyote Creek’s border collies. Using only whistles and commands, Luke herded four bulls through a meadow obstacle course.
Ranch tours like Thursday’s field trip will be repeated for other students from Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek with visits to the Belton, Allen/Daughenbaugh, Monger and Stanko family ranches for the Steamboat group on Friday, and visits to Coberly Creek Ranch for Oak Creek students on May 24.
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