Jo Stanko and her husband Jim owe their high country ranching lifestyle to his great grandfather who emigrated to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in the late 1800's. He found his way to the center of this vast American continent and began building a new life for himself. At first, he worked in a coal mine while he accumulated enough money to buy a bar and a few rental houses. Selling it all, he decided to homestead some land near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, then a very rural community a hard days ride west of Ft. Collins.
The ranch was founded in 1907. "I don't know why he decided on ranching," said Jo, one of the newest Cattlemen's Beef Board members, "but today we have 640 acres and lease some additional pasture."
They started out ranching life as a grain, hay, cow-calf and yearling operation. It took just a few years for them to make a decision to convert to a hay and cow-calf business.
Today, Steamboat Springs is a very upscale skiing town, thanks to an annual snowfall that reaches 400 inches. The weather adds some interesting challenges to raising cattle. "We have just 90 days to prepare for feeding cattle," said Stanko, "and then we have to feed them for about 180 days.
"Cattle are universal animals," she said, "but they have to adapt to the climate. Around here, it's all about supplying them with grass and water."
Spring calving is complicated by the deep snow although Jo sees a certain advantage. "We can pull that calf out into some clean snow to process and tag it. It takes the mother cow a while to plow her way to her baby so we can do what needs to be done without a lot of interference. We also feed calves at night when calories are most needed."
Jim and Jo are the third generation ranchers, taking over the place in 1975. "We've worked the ranch the longest of the generations," said Jo. "Our son, Pat, and his family just came back - we encouraged him to do something else first, to make sure he wanted to do this for a living. We're working on a way to transfer ownership to him. We have a partnership now, but we'll form a corporation to take advantage of the business benefits. We've already prepared the way with Conservation easements."
Sometime in the near future, Pat and his wife Jan will take over the reins of that Centennial Ranch as the fourth generation of family ownership. Standing in the background as a possible fifth generation of Stanko's to become high country cattle ranchers are Jim and Jo's grandchildren, Taylor and Justin.