Rena and Roger Cole have taken a family tradition of raising breeding stock and transformed the art of ranching into the art of show.
Both were born and raised in Durango. Roger's grandfather, Garland Neel, was a builder involved in the construction of some of Durango's historic buildings on Main Avenue, including the Strater Hotel.
When Roger's mother, Ruth, finished college at the old Fort Lewis campus, she moved to Steamboat Springs and took a job as an extension agent. It was there that she met her husband, Jim Cole, a rancher and state rodeo bronco-riding champion. They raised cattle in Routt County, despite heavy snow that made ranching difficult, and in 1952 decided to move to the warmer climate of Southwest Colorado. The registered Herefords made the trip by train.
Roger Cole grew up on the ranch where his father raised cattle, primarily for breeding stock. He learned the ins and outs of ranching, then left for a time to work construction and run his own drywall business. He eventually returned to the ranch, continuing the business of raising hay and cattle.
The 300-acre Cole Ranch on Florida Mesa currently has 40 head of primarily Red Angus, including cows, heifers and a breeding bull. The cows are grass-fed and finished on corn hand-ground by the Coles.
Rena Cole grew up in Hermosa and showed horses when she was young. She is involved in the ranch as times allows, busy in her 13th year as a purchasing agent for Fort Lewis College. They attribute satisfaction from ranching to showing their animals, and are very committed to the local 4-H programs. Both of their children, Megan, 19, and Logan, 17, have been involved since they were young. Megan's steer won Grand Champion at the County Fair this year, and it was Logan's enthusiasm for pigs that led the family to raise market hogs.
Also on the ranch is nephew Jason Cole's lay hen business. Jason manages more than 250 hens on pasture and is licensed to sell his eggs to restaurants and groceries. With business partner Holly Napier, they have a successful Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program that supplies customers with free-range chicken eggs year-round.
In the past, Jason also has raised vegetables at the ranch and has participated in the local Farm to School program, picking from the ranch's 100-year-old orchard to provide organically grown apples to area schools.
The work entails many hours and can be exhausting, but the Coles find great enjoyment in meeting customers directly at the farmers market.
"I'm glad it's so rewarding," said Rena Cole. "It gives us the enthusiasm to keep ranching."
Cole Ranch beef and pork are processed locally at Sunnyside Meats and are available at the Saturday Durango Farmers Market and at Cocina Linda.
Marje Cristol owns Linnaea Farm in Durango and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses. She also serves on the Durango Farmers Market board. Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.