Colleen O’Connor with the Denver Post interviewed a bunch of Colorado ranchers and wrote the story below about the sale and purchase of cattle brands—and the imperilled state of the family ranch. There are 32,609 registered brands in Colorado, and 4,000 were canceled on July 1 for no payment. To raise funds, some ranchers are selling their brands!

Thomas Dyekman of Loveland, Colorado twice passed up the opportunity to sell the title to the historic cattle brand that has been in his family since before the turn of the 20th century.

“I chickened out,” Dyekman said.

The heft of history, a heritage of the Old West with its open ranges and cattle rustlers, was too hard to let go.

But his rare, two-character ZL brand, first recorded in 1885, is now on the block. The price tag: $12,000.

“My son has the farm now, and he’s going to sell it and move to Wyoming,” Dyekman said.

In Colorado, a brand is private property that can be bought or sold. Some are priced as low as $500. Others, like a set auctioned for charity, fetch as much as $44,000.

Just as thenumber of ranches is dwindling, so are the brands that go with them. Currently, there are 32,609 registered brands.

On July 1, about 4,000 were canceled because owners failed to pay the 2007 assessment fee, despite a grace period that lasted more than three years.

“Colorado is developing its ranches,” said Colorado Brand Commissioner Rick Wahlert. “They’re being sold and subdivided, and all of a sudden, you have people who don’t need brands.”

Other ranchers have three or four brands, he said, enough to save some money by letting one or two go.

Assessment fees for a five-year brand registration have nearly doubled in recent years, from $125 in 2002 to $225 today. Late fees climb to $100 at the end of the three-year grace period.

“One reason the fee was raised is because we’re a totally cash-funded agency, through inspection fees and brand-assessment fees,” Wahlert said.

Wahlert with his brothers owns the rights to the historic brands their grandfathers used to mark and identify cattle.

Those 4,000 or so canceled brands don’t automatically hit the market, to be scooped up by intrepid seekers of brands that are historic or rare or happen to match their initials.

They will be kept on the books for three years, Wahlert said, “so it could be possible they might be reinstated.”

Wahlert said about 70 applications for new brands are filed each month. A new brand costs $50.

At the same time the 4,000 brands were shelved, the owners of another 148 had the rights to theirs up for sale.

• Justin Lee Johns of Hotchkiss is selling his for $18,000.

• Brandon Fincher of Akron is asking $15,000.

• Peter Kamp of Eaton wants just $500.

“The price depends on how many people want it or maybe on how many characters there are,” Wahlert said.

Most new brands have two letters or numbers along with a character such as a bar, a quarter circle or a slash.

It is hard to record a two-character brand in Colorado because so many of them are already in the brand book.

The oldest brand still in the same family belongs to John Sheriff of Hot Sulphur Springs — a bar over a double S that was first recorded in an 1884 brand book.

“It’s kind of hard to make the payment, and I don’t like the way they raised it,” Sheriff said.

But he has no intention of letting it go.

“We’ve had it a long time,” he said. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. She came here and homesteaded.”

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