New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Adison Thorp, APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch
I will never look out at the landscape the same way again. As I move through the pastures at the Indreland Ranch I observe a harmony of life all thriving in one small area of Montana. Standing in one spot I can see Antelope, Deer, Angus cows, Sandhill Cranes, Meadowlark, and a wealth of insects. As I look at the grass, I find myself identifying the species, admiring the diversity, and analyzing its grazing potential. The abundance of resources on the Indreland Ranch could not be possible without the use of a regenerative and holistic management style. As Roger would say “we are in the grass business” meaning, we manage for the health of the land and that helps us to manage the health of our animals.
These past 8 months have flown by as each new season brought new challenges and opportunities to grow. As an apprentice, I was surprised to learn of the relationship between the seasons and the life cycle of Indreland Angus. Each season: Winter, Summer, Spring, and Fall bring a new stage of life for these animals. From very pregnant cows and heifers in the winter to calving in the spring, breed up in the summer and preg-checking in the fall. Rather than sticking to a conventional way of raising animals, one built solely for production, the Indrelands chose a path that allows them to work with nature rather than against it. It just makes sense, allowing more time and flexibility to work on other aspects of their ranching business. Since coming to learn this I have found that there is far more to ranching then what I originally thought, in fact it’s a constant limbo between the livestock and our ability to build a resilient landscape.
As an apprentice for the Indrelands I have had so many new experiences and gained a myriad of skills that will follow me into the future. I have always been very passionate about creating sustainable practices that support the landscape. Therefore, a highlight of working with the Indrelands was learning about what they were doing to support the landscape. As we worked on monotonous tasks like fencing or irrigation, I was reminded that each action influences the land and soil health. I had the privilege of learning from people like Nicole Masters about how regenerative agricultural systems, like the Indrelands, can improve productivity, reduce production costs, create biodiversity, and build resilience. It’s sometimes hard to see the bigger picture in regenerative ranching when all you’re doing is the smaller tasks, but it all seems to pay off when you get to look up and see a thriving ecosystem.
Creating a healthy and resilient landscape is just one of many highlights during my time at the Indreland Ranch. Another highlight was working with the animals. While calving was a busy time of year it was a special time to be a part of. I enjoyed learning about how a cow gives birth and what to look for, how to obtain important birth information for genetic records, and taking care of the bum calves. I also thoroughly enjoyed learning how to move and trail cattle to different pastures. Before ranching, I never knew how much of a dance it could be to practice low stress livestock handling. As a part of the apprenticeship, myself and the other apprentices had the privilege of attending a low stress livestock animal handling clinic led by Whitt Hibbard where we learned how to create a low stress environment to move animals. With the help of the Indrelands and this clinic I have gained confidence in moving animals and now find a lot of satisfaction in doing so. Working with these animal’s day in and day out I have been able to observe their habits, movements, and personalities. One special aspect of working on the Indreland ranch is that I not only get to work with Black Angus cattle but also with milk cows, dogs, cats, and chickens. I loved building a relationship with these animals and watching them evolve through each season of life.
If ranching were easy, everyone would do it. Working with animals can be frustrating, they don’t always do what you want them to do. I specifically remember multiple days when we were sorting cows and they just would not budge, even when it seemed like we were doing everything right. Working with cattle can also be mentally difficult. Things happen, animals get sick and sometimes die. This can be tasking to watch and hard to process at times. There were days on the ranch where I wanted to give up, throw in the towel, and never look back. However, it was in these challenging times that I learned some of the most important life lessons and skills. Instead of rushing through tasks just to get to the next one, I have learned to observe and be patient. When something goes wrong, like the cows getting out, I have also learned to be more adaptable and accepting of the fact that these things happen, and they can eventually be put right. It is these and other skills that I am grateful I get to carry on into the next steps of my life.
This apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to explore my passion for regenerative ranching and what the reality of a ranching life means for me. Moving forward, I want to continue supporting work that revitalizes and regenerates the landscape. I am passionate about creating healthy working landscapes and wild places that allow plants, humans, and animals to thrive. Working for the Indrelands has also led me to realize other passions, like working with people. As an apprentice for the Indrelands I have been able to interact with a variety of people and communities, sharing information about the ranch and what it means to practice regenerative ranching. Through these experiences I have found that I want to teach and empower others to work on important environmental solutions such as regenerative ranching. Looking into the future, I hope to work with people and communities to protect the landscape around them for future generations to come.
This apprenticeship has been a life-changing experience. It has shown me a new urgency in the importance of regenerative ranching, and I now have more respect than ever for the ranching community. I am grateful to Roger and Betsy for showing me what it means to successfully steward the land and I admire how thoughtfully they manage each animal. I would not change anything about my time on the Indreland Ranch and I will cherish the experiences and connections I made with the people, animals, and landscape of Montana.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
A meaningful life. A small but powerful idea that myself and many others have been chasing after for most of their lifetime. For the majority of my life, I have held a curiosity for the land and the creatures living on it. Natural landscapes have always held space for me to question life’s obstacles, explore, and create new adventures. Today, spending time outside and actively restoring working landscapes while conserving wild places is what contributes to my meaningful life.
Working as an apprentice I hope to explore how this lifestyle can contribute to my meaningful life by digging deeper into my passion and how it relates to the work done on the Indreland Ranch. I want to be doing work that allows me to be on the ground and in the soil. I want to be working closely with animals and practicing low stress livestock handling techniques. Where I can see the results of managing land regeneratively and what that means for long-term landscape health and fostering a better food system. I also hope to delve into the ranching lifestyle, creating deeper connections with the land, animals, and community around me. I aspire to be present. I hope that throughout this apprenticeship I can focus more on listening and observing my surroundings. Thankfully, from what I’ve experienced thus far, this lifestyle allows for the practice of presence and is in many ways already allowing me to explore what contributes to my meaningful life.
An important concept I’ve learned about land is its interconnectedness. Everything has a purpose and a place in the system. When it comes to personal wants and needs, I think this is a valuable lesson to consider. A balanced life to me, is a meaningful life. However, finding balance is hard, and in my struggle to find it these first couple weeks at the Indreland Ranch, my mentors shared with me an influential theory called the big rocks little rocks theory. This theory is about prioritizing your life. The big rocks signify the truly important things in your life and the little rocks signify other things that matter. Imagine filling a jar, if you were to only spend time on the small things you would not have enough space or time to focus on the big important things. When considering my meaningful life and how this apprenticeship fits into it, this theory is a valuable tool that I hope to use in creating a balanced life.