It's Ranch Days for Routt County schoolchildren

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After lunch Tuesday, four fourth graders ducked into a small barn on Scott and Tricia Flowers' ranch, just southwest of Steamboat Springs, and giddily bounced through the building, which was home to chickens and turkeys.

The low ceiling and small quarters of the barn looked as if it was built to scale for the children. The turkeys were pinned on one side of the old wood structure, and Hunter Migues stood above the pin and watched the birds.

"Wow, there sure are a lot more of them than I thought there would be," said the fourth- grader.

He turned to look at a black and white chicken, which had black feathers bunched on top of its head in a Johnny Bravo-like hair-style.

"We call that one Elvis," Migues said. "Because of his hair."

Seconds later, Migues and the other three children were gone. They flashed out of the barn and disappeared into dispersed groups of fourth-graders who had taken over the ranch for the day. Some were playing soccer in the field and some were lounging in a hammock. Others were in another field, where the Flowers raise reindeer, horses and pigeons.

"Baby pigeons!" fourth grader Brent Becker yelled excitedly, while running up from the field. "The pigeons had babies!" And three or four children responded and chased Becker back to the barn where the pigeons lived.

Then, above of yelps and yells of the children, one word began to echo through ranch. Nearly all the children caught on, chanting the word together, and it caused a mild form of hysteria.

"Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream," they shouted in unison.

Soon, Scott Flower was on the scene with a red cooler filled with ice cream bars and the children rushed around him to get their share.

After eating, the students broke into assigned groups and went to work.

Some learned about horse shoeing, other spun wool into ropes and another group focused on a discussion about proper land stewardship and agricultural practices.

This is Ranch Days in Routt County, where fourth-graders from all school districts visit a ranch for the day. Ranches taken over by children were the Rossi's Ranch in south Routt, the Flowers' Wolf Run Ranch near Steamboat, Mary Kay and Larry Monger's High Tide Ranch and Susan Shoemaker's Harmony Ranch.

During Ranch Days, the children are broken into groups and taken to different stations at the ranch to learn about various elements of agriculture from spinning wool and proper stewardship practices to being introduced to ranch animals. At lunch time, the children get about an hour's worth of play time.

Jo Stanko, who was one of the speakers at the Wolf Run Ranch, said an event like Ranch Days makes a life long impression on a child who doesn't know much about agricultural culture.

"I have people who are 35 years old that come up to me and say, 'I remember going out to your ranch,'" she said.

Ranch Days is organized by the Tread of Pioneers Museum, and is supported by the Routt County Extension Office and the Routt County CattleWomen's Association. Safeway even pitches in, donating the ice cream.

"Ranching is a huge part of the heritage of Routt County and we want the children to have a first hand experience," museum director Mary Woodbury said.

A week before Ranch Days start, speakers go into the classroom to talk about ranching in the Yampa Valley to prepare to the children for their trip.

Since Ranch Days was started about five years ago, it is always a big success.

"Everything was so amazing to children," museum curator Candice Lombardo said of the children at Ranch Days. "When the speakers were talking or teaching (at the stations) it was all eyes on them. They were just totally enamored by the experience."

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