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.”
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