Tybar Ranch holds special place in valley history

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy Aspen Valley Land TrustIrrigated hay fields make up most of the 800 acres at the Tybar Ranch outside Carbondale. The owners are working with the Aspen Valley Land Trust to try to keep it that way.

CARBONDALE – The last working ranches of the Roaring Fork River basin are all unique simply from the fact that they are holdouts – stubbornly sticking with agriculture when it would be easier to sell out for residential development.

But among the remaining spreads, the Tybar Ranch four miles outside of Carbondale is particularly unique. It isn’t a typical cow-calf beef production operation. The cattle it produces are too expensive to convert into steaks and burgers.

Instead, the Tybar produces world-renowned Angus bulls and heifers sold as seed stock to replenish Angus herds around the country and other parts of the world.

Tybar has 200 head of registered Angus cows that go through a selective breeding program to produce some of the most highly sought bulls and heifers in the country. The ranch, in its current form, was established in 1979 when David and Emma Danciger purchased 800 acres of prime ground along Prince Creek Road, southeast of Carbondale. They moved their Angus operation up from Texas, and the late David Danciger began working on groundbreaking testing with Colorado State University.

All breeds of cattle raised above 5,000 feet in elevation are susceptible to brisket disease, in which fluid escapes the heart valve and leads to heart failure. Tybar and CSU started testing in 1984 for pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP). The lower the score, the lower risk of brisket disease – and peace of mind for buyers forking over big bucks for registered Angus.

The university and Tybar took the system a step further by including the PAP scores in expected progency difference data, variables that show how offspring of a specific bull and cow will perform. A web-based program allows cattle operations with PAP data to virtually breed their bulls or cows with ones they are considering buying to make sure they have a good match to avoid brisket disease. “Genes that fit” is the appropriate tagline used by the ranch.

Tybar uses the program to selectively breed its cattle in its operation and use it as a culling tool. Ranch manager and Carbondale native Mark Nieslanik has become as adept at running computer programs as helping deliver a calf on a frigid February morning.

“We’ve been in the business over 30 years, and we have the best herd we’ve ever had,” Nieslanik said.

The Tybar’s reputation has reached the point where it can seal deals via emails and faxed contracts, but it still holds annual fall production sales for breeders who want to visually check the stock and get together to talk “bull.” The Tybar’s 12th annual fall production sale on Nov. 5 will feature 140 top bred females, 35 bred and PAP-tested commercial heifers and 10 coming two-year-old bulls. The bulls will sell for between $2,000 and $3,200, Nieslanik said.

The ranch also sells semen from its bulls for artificial insemination and cow embryos. (The Tybar’s website features pictures of the featured cows and bulls, looking regal in profile.)

Emma Danciger, her family and staff have maintained the work of David Danciger after he passed away in 2004.

The Tybar Ranch sits in the shadow of Mount Sopris, which looms to the south. The public lands in the low hills of the Crown flank the ranch to the east. Nearly all of Tybar’s 800 acres are irrigated hayfields. The cows are on their summer break – munching in the alpine pastures of the Thompson Divide area, where the Tybar has a summer grazing permit on national forest along with other area ranchers.

With luck, the unspoiled view at the Tybar Ranch will remain for generations to come. Danciger and Nieslanik are working with Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails on a plan to conserve the entire ranch, according to AVLT executive director Martha Cochran.

AVLT wants to preserve all remaining working ranches, but there would be special significance to conserving the Tybar, she said.

“Most of the ranches we deal with buy their bulls from the Tybar and sometimes the heifers,” Cochran said. So conserving the Tybar would not only preserve the land, but also help keep Roaring Fork Valley agriculture more viable.

The move would be a key to preserving the open spaces on the perimeter of Carbondale. “Prince Creek is either developed into little subdivisions or it’s in big ranches,” Cochran said. “The Tybar is one of the biggest ranches.”

Nieslanik said his title work shows the land that evolved into the Tybar has water rights to Dinkle Lake, near the base of Mount Sopris, that date back to 1892. It appears that a portion of the ranch was homesteaded even earlier.

If the conservation deal goes down, negotiations are also under way for a bike and pedestrian trail on the ranch, paralleling Prince Creek Road, Cochran said.