New Agrarian Voices

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





Mimi Rebein, 2nd Year APPRENTICE, Charter Ranch, Montana

November 2023

Staying on at the same place for two years has allowed me to see different things and learn on a deeper level. I think if I had gone to a different place for my second year as an apprentice, I probably would have learned more hard skills, simply from being on a different place that does things a different way. There were definitely still hard skills I learned during my second year, particularly with handling goats and livestock guardian dogs. I learned that it’s easier to bring the entire herd to a single goat, than try to bring a single goat to the herd, and that all dogs will eventually love dog treats. As I look back, I am overall glad that I stayed on the same ranch and think it was the right choice. I’ve been able to see how patterns shift and that ranching is truly about life-long learning and being open and ready to change. The fact that nothing really ever stays the same is both tiring and what keeps it interesting. It is a daunting task to be charged with caring for all these animals but it feels very real. I’m considering if it is the right move to transition to a more office-type job, that has a little more security and benefits. I do worry that it will sort of feel removed from reality, going from working with these living, breathing animals and landscape to working in front of a computer. But on the flip side, depending on the job, there’s potential to impact many more animals, ranchers, and acres of land. I’m considering going back to school as well, a consideration that’s been on the table for years. In an ideal world, I’d be able to work part-time on a ranch and part-time for an organization supporting regenerative agriculture. But that also might just be because I’m terrible at choosing between two things. 

Ranching is full of dichotomies, I’ve found. And it seems like one of the keys to lasting in this world is being able to balance all of those. I knew coming into my first year that I knew nothing about anything, and the second year has continued to show me all there is to learn and the potential different avenues you can take for the same outcome. For example, raising a calf. There’s endless options and decisions to make before it even hits the ground, but its all working towards the same goal of raising a healthy and profitable calf crop. 

One major highlight was purchasing two fillies and working with them to get them started. This has always been a goal of mine, however it always felt so far away. I’ve never been in a position to own a horse before now, so it felt pretty crazy to go out and purchase two. I’ve learned a lot about horse training from simply watching Steve and how he interacts with his horses and approaches different situations. He has started and trained tens of dozens of horses throughout his life, and is a wealth of knowledge. It is always interesting watching someone work with animals in such a subconscious way, where they’ve spent countless hours working with them. Having him help with these colts was invaluable. He gave me the courage and confidence to even decide to buy them and was always willing to help, even if it was 7 pm. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this experience. Training a colt and training my dog have really shown me where my strengths and weaknesses are, as well as just general personality. I’ve been wearing a helmet when riding them and it gives me that extra confidence boost. While it’s not in the slightest fashionable nor very cowboy of me, sometimes you need to meet yourself where you are. I’ve found that I tend to wait for the animal to make their own choice, and that I ask rather than tell. There’s definitely times where this is appropriate but there’s also times when a firmer hand is needed and would lead to a better understanding and relationship. On that note, a challenge over this past year has been figuring out how to run goats on a cattle ranch and manage the working dogs around them. This is where the asking not telling approach is not quite enough. 

There is an inherent loneliness to living in the country or a rural area, yet also something beautiful about it. It’s a privilege fewer and fewer people are able to experience. Staying for two years definitely makes the decision on what to do next that much harder. When you apprentice on a ranch, that place and those people essentially become your family. You see them everyday, you see the animals everyday, it becomes who and what you’re closest to. I’m endlessly grateful to the Charters for being some of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve met. I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or advice. I knew that if I broke down they would come pick me up, which luckily only happened a couple times. The only advice I would have for someone considering apprenticing here is if you do not want to accumulate pets, then this is not the right place for you. I am feeling the urge to settle down and stay in one place for a while, however I’m also torn by wanting to experience more places and different lifestyles. At times, I wish there was a reason for me to be rooted to one place. As I’m getting older too, there is probably some engrained societal pressure to have things together and be rooted in a career. I wonder if and when the urge to stay on the move will dissipate. At this point, it almost feels like a habit but it might be time to break that habit. While moving to different ranches and operations can teach you a lot, growing roots is also a skill that I need to learn.

2nd Year – My Land Ethic
April 2023

I feel my land ethic is continually changing, as I gain experiences with different landscapes and communities.  My understanding of land ethic centers on community and how we interact and treat those within that community. I feel like my definition of regenerative agriculture and land ethic has a lot of overlap: an understanding that a community is made up of people, plants, animals, and the land itself and an acknowledgement that all those components rely on each other.  Regenerative agriculture is really a land ethic for working lands and the community  involved in working that land.  The land knows what it needs, the animals know what they need. I’d like to feel that my role is to watch and learn from the land, and then hopefully encourage that community to be as strong and resilient as possible.

Learning in the second year can often be more subtle and nuanced, which can be difficult to see at times while you’re living it. However, ranching is not something you can ever truly learn and be done. I feel that I am constantly learning and observing different practices and figuring out what works for this context. The  ranch recently got goats, and that has been a steep learning curve and one that I am excited to continue on.

I am not super sure on what the future holds beyond this year. I feel that working on the land and with animals for the past several years has made it so that is deeply ingrained in who I am. Feeling connected to a community of plants and animals, so far, has been a stabilizing force in my life. Because of that, I feel like I will most likely continue working in agriculture in one aspect or another.

Final Reflections
November 2022

The time I have spent in Montana and on the Charter Ranch has been priceless. Big sky country has not disappointed in its views and vistas. The view from the same spot is never the same, from day to day. Oftentimes, after I’ve lived in a place for a while, I simply scan the land, not really taking anything in. I was struck one day in the spring, when my mentor Steve shared his observation of a really small cloud of dust far off in the horizon. He is the second generation to live on this land and yet still takes the time to stop and observe every day. This appreciation and dedication to the land shows in his work and reputation. 

No day is the same here on the ranch. Although the tasks might be the exact same, you never know what events will pop up. The big project this summer was taking down miles of high tensile fence in the Bull Mountains. This involved walking the same fenceline multiple times, first to take off the insulators, then to pull the posts, then to pack out the posts, and then finally to roll up the wire.There’s no better way to become familiar with a ranch then by walking the fenclines over and over. This summer project really taught me the value of pacing yourself. The first couple weeks or so, I was pretty gung ho and felt the pressure to make sure it got done before we moved back down to the home place. I quickly learned that that attitude was not going to serve me well if I wanted to have a positive experience. By the third time I was walking up this extremely steep hill, I paused to take in the view and just sit with my dog. As I look back, it was these times throughout the season where I really appreciated the fact of the privilege that I was allowed to be a small part of this land’s history. I was talking with this woman from South Dakota and we both were struck by how different the pace is in Montana. People here seem to take their time and really understand the importance of slowing down, while still being efficient. 

A couple of the biggest highlights of this past season have been all the dogs and horses. I remember listening to one of the NAP 101 calls and hearing the Charter’s being described as big animal people, which is spot on. There’s always a lot of dogs running around and they’re always pumped to load up in the truck and go on adventure with you, even if you’re driving a quarter of a mile. After being here for a couple weeks, I promptly decided that it was high time I get a dog of my own. I brought my puppy back and took him straight to one of the kid’s birthday parties where he soaked up all the attention and fallen chips and knew I’d made the right choice. I’ve learned a lot from the dogs here. Watching the stock dogs work the cattle was my first introduction to true low stress livestock handling. At the low stress livestock handling clinic, the instructor showed us how dogs typically zig zag back and forth behind the cattle to get them moving. As I learned more at the clinic, I kept picturing instances where I had seen the dogs do these same moves and techniques. Over the season, I’ve definitely learned that animals, usually, know best and that they are often the greatest teachers. I have learned patience when trying to get on a green horse that just won’t stand still. I have learned to be calm, even when the cows are seemingly going the wrong way. And I have learned that there is still so much more to be learned from all these animals. Part of what drew me to regenerative agriculture was how it acknowledges the animals key place and role in the larger ecosystem. Regenerative agriculture practitioners tend to not see the cattle as just walking beef, but rather as contributing to the function of the landscape and community. I hope to continue to learn all the different roles animals play in the northern plains ecosystem. 

As winter has set in, I feel like I’m starting at the beginning all over again. The cattle are wintered and summered in different locations, so I’ve restarted the process of learning a new ranch: where the gates are, where the prairie dog holes are, where the horses are most likely to be. Winter has its own unique set of challenges and I’m excited to learn what ranching in the winter entails. I am planning on staying a second year with the Charter’s and hope to really delve into the bookkeeping and business side of ranching, and winter seems like the perfect time to do that. Really, its an excuse to stay inside on the cold and windy days. The business aspect is not as intuitive for me as the animal care side, so I hope to get a solid foundation in the basics of what it takes to run a ranching business. 

I came into the Quivira Coalition program with some expectations on what the NAP program would be like and what I would learn. Some of these expectations were exceeded and some fell short, as goes for most things in life. As I move forward, I hope to continue to grow and learn in unexpected ways, as well as confront the areas where I feel I did not learn and seek out opportunities to learn.

May 2022

I’ve always known I wanted to work with animals, in some capacity. Growing up, my family and I would visit my grandparents on their ranch in western Kansas and I remember never wanting to leave, mainly because of the pack of dogs that were always down to play. However, coming from the suburbs, ranching never seemed a viable career or life path so I didn’t give it much thought beyond those visits. After graduating college, I worked a season as a wrangler on a working guest ranch and that is when I found out about the world of regenerative agriculture. I am fascinated by the vast potential of regenerative practices and all the ways these practices vary from place to place. The thought of being able to work outside, alongside the livestock and wildlife, while also helping heal the soil seemed pretty ideal. I was lucky enough to land a job working with Belted Galloway cattle for two years in midcoast Maine at a nonprofit farm. The focus on that farm was on producing high-quality genetics, showing cattle, and community engagement. There, I solidified my love for cattle and working landscapes, and realized the immense importance of community. 

I hope to gain an understanding  of what it takes to run cattle in different environments, both landscape/weather wise and market wise. Commodity markets and the financial side of ranch operations are very complex topics that I wish to begin to understand. Something I didn’t realize I wanted to learn is how to work with and train stock dogs, as I have quickly seen how big of a help they are to have around. Additionally, I hope to better my horsemanship skills, generally and when working cattle. Steve Charter is an incredible horseman and approaches working with them with endless patience. If I am able to gain even just 1% of the patience and understanding he has when working with horses, that’ll be a success. 

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