Moving Cows in Colorado

Jerry Cochran and Billy Joe Dilley

Moving Cows in the San Juan Mountains


Chad Cochran glasses for Cows

 Five Generations of Cattle Ranching in Southern Colorado

by Chad Cochran

   Seated in the very center of Colorado's San Luis Valley, the Cochran Ranch borders the southern side of the Rio Grande River. Part of the current ranch was purchased by my grandfather, Glenn Cochran, Jr. in 1952. The other part was added in 1990 by my parents, Ronna and Jerry Cochran, but our family has been ranching in the area since the 1800's!
   Glenn was the only son of government surveyor Glenn Cochran, Sr. and Tina Belle Bowles.  The Bowles' family previously used the San Luis Valley as summer pasture for the thousands of yearlings they drove from further south in the 1870-80's. By the early 1890's, Glenn Sr. did enough work surveying in the San Juan Mountains that President Cleveland granted him as many acres as he wanted near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. Glenn spoke for 40 acres, which was enough to start a "town site." Though the town never came, he and my grandfather Glenn Jr., both avid outdoorsmen and hunters, started work on a guest ranch that would later be known as Ski-Hi Ranch. They bought and raised cattle and horses both, using the high country for summer ground, and a small ranch in Del Norte for wintering.
   In the late fifties, Grandpa Glenn knew he needed more Valley property to raise hay and winter his livestock. Though the family had good water rights in Del Norte, he purchased the 160-acre river property outside of Monte Vista in 1952 along with a Forest Service grazing permit. He fell in love with the popular Hereford breed and the newer Red Angus breed. Of his five children, my father Jerry Glenn Cochran, took to ranching the most. While working for another great ranching family, the Olivers, Dad met a feisty horse trainer named Ronna Jo Zehner, who as it turned out, was the daughter of a 3rd generation Colorado rancher from Hayden. They married and had three children.
  At this point, Mom and Dad purchased the second ranch three miles west. What had begun as a late 1800's homestead, became a feed-lot operation, and then finally our ranch in 1990. It brought another 180 acres, a slightly newer house (only 100 years old!) and many old barns and outbuildings. Dad followed the market and found he liked the French, high mountain breed of Limousin cattle. Along with the help of other SLV Limousin breeders Dad was able to build a good herd.
   With the highs and (mostly) lows of the cattle market, another cattleman was born, me. Following my father and both grandfathers was as natural as breathing. I graduated from Colorado State University in 2005 with a double major in Animal Science and Agricultural Business and brought home the proof that the market was, once again, changing. We started buying Black Angus bulls and continue with the Lim-Flex breed (half Limousin, half Angus) in this new century. The Ski-Hi guest ranch was sold by the family after Grandpa Glenn's death in 1976, as well as his Forest Service permit above the Rio Grande Reservoir.
   After I graduated from CSU, I purchased more cattle as well as the 35,000-acre Roaring Fork Forest Service permit south of Creede, which is where we graze our cattle in the summer today.  Much of our time in the summer involves checking and moving cattle in the mountains a horseback.  Our ranch is a cow/calf ranch, meaning we own mother cows and buy bulls every few years, then have calves in the spring. We raise the calves through the summer, and those that we do not keep as replacement heifers, are sold in the fall. All of our work is done on horses, which are by and large trained right here on the ranch by Dad, my youngest sister Kayla, my wife Amy, and myself.

       ~Chad Cochran