New Agrarian Voices

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





Nick Eddy, 2nd Year APPRENTICE, Round River Resource Management, CO

November 2023

I have now completed my second year of apprenticeship with the Quivira Coalition New Agrarian Program, having worked both seasons at the same company, Round River Resource Management. This is a large-scale cattle grazing operation on Colorado’s Eastern plains. My second season has been a very different experience from my first season, despite many of the daily tasks remaining similar. I was able to further develop many technical skills this year, and some of my responsibilities have required me to make decisions independently and supervise tasks.  

I have thoroughly enjoyed continuing to strive for improvement in my stockmanship throughout this season. Building upon the training and practice I received last year, I especially noticed that working with the cows out in the pasture during the calving season became more enjoyable and less suspenseful toward the end of the spring. The Curt Pate stockmanship clinic in September gave me a boost of ideas and communication tools for working with livestock after which I have seen dramatic benefits from practicing good stockmanship including faster and more efficient working, reduced stress for both the workers and the animals, and significantly reduced incidents of precarious or unsafe situations between the animals and the workers. Understanding the animal mind is not fully achievable, but it leaves inexhaustible room for improvement, and it is a very wholesome and enjoyable enterprise. 

My experience as a second-year apprentice has been instrumental in helping me improve some other technical skills such as operating machinery. While it is always necessary to first receive instruction on using a machine or implement, I believe this is a case where practice makes perfect – as the saying goes. Certain tasks that involve the ranch machinery such as tractors, trailers, and the skidsteer, which I performed occasionally as a first-year apprentice, became part of my primary responsibilities as a second-year apprentice. This gave me an opportunity to gain important hours of practice. 

In January of this year I became more involved with management of our off-site leased ranch than I had been last year. With oversite from my mentor, I performed day-to-day maintenance of this property, and tended the herd of  five hundred breeding cows. This challenge required me to make pre and post grazing assessments in order to provide adequate forage to the cattle while also achieving land-enhancement objectives. This gave me the opportunity to put some concepts that I had learned in my previous year into practical application. Importantly, I had the opportunity to control each phase of the grazing process at times on this ranch. This included making forage assessments, developing grazing plans, monitoring and making adjustments as necessary. Having this degree of control was instrumental in helping me improve my abilities to make plans, appreciate the value of each of the connected but sometimes opposing objectives that must be balanced, and refine my management skills after reviewing the results of the decisions I had made. After developing and implementing a plan, I monitored animal performance and pasture conditions to make a determination on whether it would be appropriate to make adjustments to the plan. Monitoring the animals involved observing any number of physical or behavioral trends that provide insight into the well-being of the cattle and their performance. I made frequent assessments of body condition score to insure that animal condition parameters were being met, as well as learning to judge the contentment of the cattle by their behavior. 

This past year I have supervised some tasks with coworkers and kept work progress going when my mentor has been out of town. I have enjoyed the increased mental challenges involved with these tasks such as prioritizing some projects over others, multitasking, or keeping several tasks moving forward simultaneously, and meeting objectives in the most efficient way possible. In addition, I have learned stronger communication skills, and gained an appreciation for the value of taking ample time to discuss the plans with coworkers. 

This year has helped me confirm my belief that livestock ranching is a good fit for me. In large part, the types of skills and abilities required by livestock ranching align with what I can offer. My intention is to continue working in management of grazing animals. 

One of the highlights of this season has been having the opportunity to spend a large part of my time with the cattle. This job has entailed spending a lot of time gathering and moving cattle and looking through the herd while tagging calves and doing wellness checks. Over the season I learned to read the cattle better, which has made work easier and more efficient, and I have enjoyed gaining a better understanding of these animals and the way they interact with their environment. 

Looking after daily maintenance of the BX ranch, the off-site lease we managed this year, was both one of the highlights and one of the greater challenges of this season. It was interesting to try to utilize my own skills in making pasture assessment, planning and monitoring. At the same time, the work involved many hours of driving time, and low-activity tasks such as checking animals and infrastructure at points a great distance apart. 

I gained a lot of knowledge and great connections through the many industry events and workshops I attended this year, both in person and virtually. This has expanded my knowledge of the regenerative ranching industry beyond my workplace, and provided many ideas for me to consider. It has been exciting to meet people and hear the stories of other ranchers.  

Although it is a constant background to our daily activities, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the shortgrass prairie landscape, creeks and cottonwood galleries and the distant mountain views wherever I worked, making this also one of the highlights of the season for me.

In conclusion, the most significant concepts I have been learning this year are different from what I learned in my first year, but with changing dynamics in my daily work, and opportunities to network with professionals in the ranching industry, I am thankful to have gained much valuable knowledge during my second apprenticeship season. I want to express my appreciation to my mentor site Round River Resource Management and the Quivira Coalition New Agrarian Program for providing me these two years of educational ranching experience.

Second Year: What is my land ethic?
April 2023

To me, the idea conveyed in the term “regenerative agriculture”, is a practical approach to growing  food that prioritizes optimal land use over maximum land use. Its implementation requires a deep  knowledge of animals, plants, soils and the environment, and foresight to plan for the long-term benefit of the land and animals under the stewardship of the farmer or rancher. While I have no doubt that  some communities of agrarians have practiced regenerative agriculture well in the past, and it is not entirely new, I do think the term can be accurately characterized as a novel movement, because there  have been many examples of agricultural disasters in our recent history that should give us cause to  want to do things differently.  

In my view, the two keys to successful regenerative agriculture are knowing the land, and planning ahead. The lack of these things being the leading cause of degrading and exploitative agriculture. Farmers and ranchers need to know the nuanced effects plants, animals, soils and the atmosphere have on one another so that they can make informed decisions. Planning or forethought, is necessary, because overuse of land in the short run leads to less yielded over time. 

The practical benefits of regenerative agriculture can be illustrated in this scenario: a rancher might overstock his ranch with the maximum number of cattle that it can support in one season. However, this leads to overgrazing, which degrades the grass and soils on his ranch. In subsequent years, the ranch can support fewer and fewer cattle. A regenerative rancher, knowing how to balance grazing and rest  for the grass in his pastures, would stock his ranch with the optimum number of cattle it can support.  Although he brings fewer cattle to the sale in the first year, the health of the grass in his pastures improves under this management, giving his ranch the ability to support a steady or increasing number of cattle in subsequent years. While the regenerative ranching method yields economic benefits and  resiliency, its focus on ecological health also provides better habitat for wildlife, captures more carbon, and reduces erosion. 

I think there is exciting potential in regenerative agriculture. That by gaining a deeper understanding of the workings of the biological engine – as Aldo Leopold described the elements at play in natural world, we, the agrarians, can orchestrate movements of livestock, growing and harvesting of plants and resting of land which can produce both a greater abundance of food from a given amount of land and, by encouraging symbiotic relationships, help to provide an environment where wildlife can thrive and the atmosphere is purified. 

I’ll admit that to describe my land ethic as I have above sounds idyllic, and I don’t believe it is possible in this world, to achieve a reality where civilization, animals and landscapes coexist entirely harmoniously. But it is my role to promote the long-term well-being of the land and animals under my stewardship as an agrarian while producing food. 

Final Reflections
November 2022

Now at the beginning of November, I feel that this season I have spent in Colorado has gone fast. In a way it feels like it has been shorter than it really has. If I had been home in Michigan over this same  period of time I may have seen the last of the snow melt, the ground thaw, the buds break on the trees  and the forests become green, a summer passing, an autumn rainy season, and trees loose their leaves  again with the returning of the snow. These are the things that typically signal to me the passing of seasons and the indicators that allow me to look outside and tell what time in the year it is. Instead, this time I’ve spent in Colorado has seemed rather like one summer. Sunshine almost all of it, with temperatures that are cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoon, with continuing low humidity. I expect that this is largely because I have not become familiar with the nuanced indicators of changing seasons in this environment. Although I did observe that the grass was brown, then it became green awhile, and now again it is brown. Also, there was a time during the summer when thunderstorms appeared in the skies almost every afternoon and brought rains. Now the skies are cloudless again. Although I do not feel like almost an entire spring, summer and fall have passed since I came to Colorado, I do feel like I have changed over this time.  

An apprenticeship is a lot of things: a temporary job and a paycheck, an opportunity to travel (if it is out of the home state), a move, but foremost it is a learning opportunity.  

I expected that this season I would learn about cattle handling, gain skills in herding, learn how water is supplied throughout the expansive acreage of the ranch, and how to implement regenerative grazing  programs. I did learn about these things. I also learned some things I did not expect to learn, including public speaking when I gave a presentation at a range science conference, how to make riding a quad bike second nature, and how to operate a road maintainer.  

I have learned technical skills through this apprenticeship by attending workshops and conferences, by working with my mentors, and practice. The primary technical skills that I have learned through this apprenticeship fall into the categories of stockmanship, water systems, fence maintenance, pasture management, and equipment operation.  

I have had opportunities to develop my stockmanship skills in a few ways this season. In the spring, I was given the opportunity to attend a Stockmanship and Stewardship conference in Kansas City, Kansas. On the ranch I’ve been practicing stockmanship moving cattle to new pastures, working cattle through the pens and chutes, loading cattle on trucks, and sorting cattle in the pens. At one time, due to a situation where our cattle escaped our fences and joined a neighboring herd, I had the opportunity to learn how to sort cattle on the range. Practicing stockmanship has been an activity that I have done consistently throughout the season and it has been one of my favorite things to do.  

Being from the eastern part of the country, where farms and ranches are typically smaller in size, and natural water is more plentiful, I was very curious to learn how water is supplied to cattle on large acreage western ranches. While there are some complexities of the water systems on the ranch I still do not fully grasp, I now understand the basic function of the underground water supply systems the ranch uses. I have also been involved in maintaining reservoirs on the ranch which are in place to utilize water from the Steels Fork Creek, which runs through many pastures on the property providing natural  water. During routine cattle checks, I ensure the proper function of drinkers, and I have been able to assist in diagnosing and fixing problems with the water system such as leaks.  

The ranch is transitioning from using barbed-wire fence to high-tensile electric. With over two-hundred  miles of fence lines on the ranch, I have had opportunities to improve my skills in repairing both barbed wire and electric fencing. Following the operation’s grazing plan,our general pattern is to prepare fence one or two pastures ahead of the movement of the herds. Utilizing strategies and pointers given to me by my mentor, I have learned how to troubleshoot electric fence problems.  

I have been able to add several things to my animal husbandry skill set throughout this season, including castrating, branding, and obtaining Beef Quality Assurance certification.  

I’ve briefly summarized the primary technical skills that my apprenticeship has helped me learn, or further develop over this season, but I should also mention the soft skills that this experience has prompted me to improve. Although they are slightly more difficult to describe, and usually taught more by example than with specific intention, I think these opportunities to develop character qualities and interpersonal abilities provide as much value as technical skills and are worth including in my  reflection.  

When I began working here at the ranch and interacting with co-workers, I quickly learned that  independence is a highly regarded virtue in the ranching community. While I stand by my strong  communication skills and collaborative tendencies that I have been taught in former work situations,  my time here has given me opportunities to understand the value of independence and to practice  weaving it into my work. I found that practicing independence necessitates the development of other qualities such as decisiveness, problem-solving, investigating, and leadership. While I came here with strong communication and collaborative tendencies, I soon learned that in an environment where  independence is expected, excessive communication with co-workers and leadership can be perceived  as an ask for help. When, for example, I encounter an unexpected situation, practicing independence causes me to investigate the cause of the incident, closely assess the potential impact of possible  solutions, choose a solution and take responsibility for result. While there is an element of risk to handling a situation in this way, and asking direction from my supervisors would likely be safer and  easier, I think it is good to develop abilities to handle problems independently, because once able to do these things confidently, I can do more on my own without needing to add tasks to my supervisors’ lists and work towards leadership roles.  

Some of my favorite ongoing tasks throughout the season have been tagging calves, and moving cattle. Some ongoing challenges have been accidentally breaking equipment or dealing with equipment that has broken down, delaying operations. Some one-time highlights of the season were attending a Stockmanship and Stewardship conference in Kansas and attending the Colorado New Agrarian Program mid-season gathering at the Badger Creek Ranch. One of the most challenging one-time events in the season was beginning the high-density grazing program in the wet lands.  

As I intend to go forward working in the field of livestock production and grazing, I will continue to  build upon the technical and personal skills I have learned this season in my career ahead. I feel  grateful to have been able to get connected with the New Agrarian Program and Round River Resource  Management. I want to thank both both Round River and the New Agrarian Program for providing this  apprenticeship opportunity and supporting me throughout the season. The New Agrarian Program has helped bridge the gap between ranchers and young people like myself who had previously limited connection to the industry, and has made these opportunities accessible to us. In addition, the program  has been active in making the apprenticeship experience educational and keeping it on the rails, offering support and providing structure. My mentor operation, Round River Resource Management has provided an opportunity to be involved in daily operations on the ranch, and to develop some skills in this line of work. Additionally, Round River has helped me make connections with organizations and important players in the ranching industry, and has given me an opportunity to learn innovative land and livestock management strategies.


May 2022

Agriculture has captured my interest for about as long as I can remember. I believe my interest in agriculture began early in my life. I do not have a family background in farming, but it has always been appealing to me and I have found that it provides a meaningful challenge. Living in the country most of my life, I admired the various types of farms I would see in rural Michigan and especially enjoyed seeing cattle and sheep in pastures or in the barns at the fair. I enjoyed experimenting with growing gardens. In addition to my interest in agriculture, I always had opportunities as a young person to observe the natural world and developed an interest in wildlife and ecology in the Northern Michigan forests. I did not try to go straight to working on a cattle ranch once I started considering jobs and collage, but I think it was always the eventual goal to get there. I did a couple of  apprenticeships on organic CSA (community supported agriculture) and market garden farms. While these opportunities were great stepping stones and very interesting in their own right, after a couple of years I decided to pivot and focus on livestock – the agricultural sector that allured me the most. I then attended collage for livestock management. Following that I spent a couple of years in Oklahoma working on a grass-fed sheep operation. 

Through my apprenticeship here at Round River Resource Management in Colorado I am getting a good introduction to regenerative agriculture in practice. Primarily, I hope to gain a better understanding of how to facilitate a complimentary relationship between livestock production and ecological and environmental prosperity. In addition, I hope to improve technical skills such as stockmanship and planned grazing that will be useful for my career ahead. Im looking forward to this season and the unique opportunities the New Agrarian Program offers for learning from industry leaders and networking with the regenerative agriculture community. 

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