New Agrarian Voices

Learn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.





Morgan Gilbert, APPRENTICE, Knott Land and Livestock, Colorado

Final Reflections
November 2022

The NAP apprenticeship at Knott Land and Livestock has been a substantial learning experience in many aspects, from technical knowledge and hard skills to stockmanship and livestock management, and even my own goals. Much of what I learned did not come from formal or direct instruction, and instead from making mistakes and changing my methods. 

I believe the most important thing I learned is to have grace, both for the animals and myself. I have a tendency towards perfectionism in many areas of my life, which is an asset when I do leatherwork and build saddles, but creates a real struggle when working with horses, dogs, and livestock. Over the past seven months I’ve learned that almost nothing goes perfectly as I plan, and it took a long time to come to terms with and be comfortable with that. Once I figured this out, I found I was not getting nearly as frustrated and discouraged, and I enjoyed the work much more. In the first half of my apprenticeship I often felt like agriculture may not be a good fit for me, which was difficult to handle because my previous small experiences over the past few years always got me excited about agriculture, though I hadn’t worked in it full time until now. Learning to be gracious and to address issues as they arrive without too much friction has helped bring back the excitement that had somewhat faded. This is something I still sometimes struggle with and likely always will, but to have noticeable growth is encouraging. 

Most of our pastures are not fenced the whole way around, because in most cases the steep, brushy hillsides discourage the cattle from climbing too high. However, there were always a group of cows that would find the ends of the fences and wander over, and once they found those spots they would return no matter how many times we put them back in the pasture. I spent many mornings gathering this group off the neighbor’s property, and much of what I learned about stockmanship and moving cattle on the range came from these mornings. Because I did these gathers alone, I learned that often the path of least resistance is better than the shortest path. They would consistently blow past the closest gate and hide in the willows, but the next gate was in a corner where I could hold the group while I opened the gate, making the extra half mile worth it. I also learned a lot about when and how to put pressure, like when crossing a creek. If I put too much pressure on while the cattle were bunched up at the crossing, one or two would usually try to run off into the willows and I would spend the next ten minutes trying to get them back out. Similarly, the calves always took longer to jump a ditch that their moms had no issues with, and trying to push a calf across would just cause them to escape along the ditch instead of across. When I gave them time to think, they would jump across on their own without an issue. I learned that cattle will generally follow the herd and the trail if they don’t feel trapped and like they need to escape. In the same way as training horses, I learned that letting the cattle find the right answer based on your pressure makes for much smoother results. 

Next year, I’m looking to find another ranch to work on, especially one that incorporates holistic and regenerative grazing practices and uses horses for the cattle work. Both these aspects are important to me, and are areas that I want to continue to learn about and utilize. I don’t currently have a specific plan yet, but will be looking for positions in the coming months.

One highlight of this apprenticeship was getting to work full time with cattle in a range setting for the first time. Prior to this year I had helped for a week at a time at various points but hadn’t had a commercial ranch job yet. I really enjoyed developing stockmanship skills and putting the skills and information that I had previously learned into practice. Often this meant completely relearning what I thought I knew, but it was still satisfying to look back and notice how far I’d come, and even see what I still have to learn. Another highlight was seeing my horse develop over the summer as he learned to work at the same time that I did. I’ve noticed a working situation really helps a horse become well rounded and develop confidence, balance, and skills that would be hard to learn in an arena. I’m really proud of how far he’s come. 

A specific highlight was the mid season gathering – after working for months with only two other people, it was nice to come together with other apprentices who were like minded and going through similar challenges. Even though we only met a couple times, and spent less than a week at a time with each other, we all quickly developed a strong connection. Keeping in contact with the other apprentices while working on a somewhat isolated ranch was important in keeping a sense of community and finding encouragement when there were challenges. 

A particular challenge was working in steep and brushy country. There was almost never a straightforward way to get to an animal or to get it where you want to go, and because of this, even relatively small pastures took far longer to gather than they would in more open country. The biggest single pasture we used, at 2500 acres, took three days to gather everything because the pairs would hide in the trees or over a ridge. Still, it provided a great opportunity to learn to be more strategic when finding the cattle, such as waiting until the heat of the afternoon so we could catch them when they came down for water. 

Overall, I’m coming away from the apprenticeship with a lot of new knowledge and experience, as well as a better understanding of where I want to go and what I want to do next.

May 2022

When I went to college to study engineering, my only experiences with agriculture had been the times I visited my uncle’s farm in Oregon. At this point I had never considered agriculture as a career path. This quickly changed when I took an elective class about animal agriculture, and it set me on the path that got me here. 

After that first class I added a minor to my degree focusing on beef production and rangeland science, where I first learned about regenerative agriculture. I also joined the Steer-a-Year club, in which students raised a group of calves from weaning to market. Although I graduated in engineering, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in animal agriculture, which is when I found the Quivira Coalition. 

Through my apprenticeship I hope to begin developing the experience and skills to successfully work in the ranching industry. Through my previous jobs and workshops I’ve had some experience and exposure to many of the hard skills like riding, roping, and doctoring, stockmanship, and working on facilities and equipment, but I haven’t had the chance to put it all together in a working environment. I also want to learn how to apply everything I learned in my animal and rangeland science courses, and learn about the big picture of regenerative agriculture so that I can apply it in my future work or eventually on a ranch of my own.

I’ve been on the ranch for a month now, and I’m constantly impressed by my mentor’s scope of knowledge and understanding of the whole system and all its interactions. Every day I learn something new, but I also learn there’s even more I have yet to learn, and I think the never ending opportunities to learn and grow are just as exciting.

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