Old West comes to Backcountry

Cattle branding event educates, recognizes local ranching history

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Cattle branding, an age-old Western tradition, is a rite of spring.

In Highlands Ranch, the community association also uses it as an opportunity to educate the locals on the history of ranching. The fifth annual Old West Cattle Branding Party, scheduled for 9 a.m. May 11 in the Backcountry Wilderness Area, is a chance not just to see how it’s done, but to learn why.

“Highlands Ranch has been a working cattle ranch for over 100 years and still is today,” said HRCA Backcountry Supervisor Mark Giebel, referring to Clough Cattle Co., which leases land from the HRCA in the backcountry for its cows to graze on. “This is a way to recognize that part of the community’s history.”

Calves, Giebel explained, are typically born in February or March and then branded in the spring. Branding provides not just a chance to mark one’s cattle, but to give the young animals their first vaccinations, medical checkups and to castrate the bulls.

Castration is done because steers tend to have more tender meat, and are safer to be around and less likely to fight than bulls. Bulls often cause injury to other cattle and can show aggression toward people. Clough Cattle Co., like other cattle companies, keeps some bulls for breeding, but according to Giebel the bulls are kept in a separate pasture and only mingle with the cows in late summer.

Clough Cattle has around 250 pairs of cows and calves and the branding is typically the first time the two get separated from one another. That separation often leads to an awful sound known as “bawling” as the cows start screaming for their calves, and the calves holler back, when separated by the ranch hands.

“This is really the opportunity the ranchers have to make sure all the cattle are properly cared for,” said Hope Marasco, backcountry coordinator. “The best part of the day is without a doubt the roundup of the cows. It’s a sight to see.”

The free event is scheduled for 9 to 10:30 a.m., but may end early as only 30 calves are scheduled to be branded that day, and once the branding is done the event will be too. 

The branding will take place off of Ron King Trail, 3.5 miles south of Highlands Ranch Parkway off Santa Fe near the Highlands Ranch Law Enforcement Training Facility. There will be signs along Santa Fe and people are asked to arrive early. Bella and Buster, the backcountry draft horses, will also be on hand for hay rides.

HRCA Community Campout

Also coming up in the backcountry is the first of three community campouts in 2013. The campout kicks off at 1 p.m. May 18 and will feature nature hikes, archery, hay rides and a raptor show during the day, along with storytelling and marshmallows around the fire and stargazing at night. Coffee, doughnuts and bagels will be provided the following morning and the campout concludes at 9 a.m.

The cost is $55 per family and attendees are asked to bring their own tents, food and stoves to cook on. All gear will be shuttled to the sites by HRCA staff. For more information, contact Hope Marasco at Hope.Marasco@hrcaonline.com or 303-471-8876. To register, call 303-791-2500 and ask for activity no. 483106.

For other fun summer events in the backcountry, visit www.hrcaonline.org and click on the backcountry tab along the menu bar.