New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Lydia Blinn, APPRENTICE, Indreland Ranch
There’s just so much to say, yet all I can think about is my mental list: barbwire fence near the bulls need repairs, vet is coming Friday for preg check, heifers need to be moved soon to fresh feed and we must milk Rosie this week cause we’re out of milk! A year ago from now I could not have imagined myself doing any of that, I didn’t even know exactly what a heifer was. Thankfully I was given this opportunity to live and breathe regenerative agriculture and experience ranch life in Montana, being able to holistically care for the land. I feel very fortunate. It was a leap of following my curiosities and trusting that this was the right move for me. Transitioning from a steady remote job and a stable living situation to a lot of unknowns was for sure scary, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. The amount I’ve learned about this land, my mentors, working with cattle, daily farm chores and myself has made the leap totally worth it.
Starting with being a steward to the land, I have learned what it takes to properly care for the health of the land. Being exposed to soil health principles and land management practices through my mentor’s knowledge, soil health workshops/seminars, Ranching for Profit and experts on the matter has opened a whole new world and appreciation for the life within our soils. I now know the importance of maintaining healthy soil is through grazing practices and how it can’t be ignored if we want a sustained way of raising food. It was complex at first and I think the more I learn, the complexity still remains. But the concepts are simple and I love being a part of the big picture of regenerative agriculture. I can now make observations about grasses, soil, land condition, body condition and overall land health and put that into practice through rotational grazing.
My mentors, Roger and Betsy, have taught me what they’ve learned for the past 20 years into 8 months of my time. From checking the oil in the four wheeler to dung beetles in cow patties, they’ve passed on an abundance of knowledge. Rich information about their Black Angus seed stock operation has given me a close glimpse into this industry. Also going from no experience with a manual to being able to drive our manual 1986 blue Toyota daily on the highway or the pasture has boosted my driving confidence. I have certainly learned so much from my mentors, directly and indirectly mostly everything I know has been from them.
Something that has been most exciting and frustrating has been learning how to work with cattle. It’s like a dance and I’m trying to get the routine down, but the steps are different each time and the routine keeps changing. I’ve learned the biggest tool to help handle cattle is patience. Slowing down to assess the situation and read the cattle before just jumping in has been beneficial. The Bud Williams practices of low stress livestock handling is crucial in getting cattle to do what you want them to do. It all began with watching 5 hours of the Bud Williams tapes early in the apprenticeship put on by my mentors, barely knowing how to even apply the practices to now being able to move cattle independently. The Whit Hibbard clinic in Helmville with the other Apprentices in August tremendously helped lay out the tools for how to properly handle cattle. I learned to not just guess, but learn to apply the Low stress handling techniques. Whether on foot or on the four wheeler, I feel confident in moving our cattle around. The most challenging times were moving 1-3 head at a time and things no going the way I wanted. In those moments I was really humbled, it tested my patience and ability to stay calm. Sometimes resulted in me breaking down and wanting to give up and other times I would follow through and get the job done. Those were very rewarding moments.
I thoroughly enjoyed our little barnyard with cats, chickens, horses and dairy cows, especially Rosie. The chickens became a daily chore with letting them out of their coop in the morning to freely graze throughout the day and shutting them in when the sun went down. We got the benefit of real free-range eggs. It was always fun for me to see the barn kitties at work, diminishing the mouse population. Milking became a weekly practice, I learned how to go from catching Rosie our most popular milk cow from the pasture to fresh raw milk in my coffee the next day.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, this kind of works seems to reveal who you really are. Through the blood, sweat and tears I’ve come out of this apprenticeship a changed person. It’s hard learning new things that you’re not good at and it’s hard working in such an uncertain environment. Tasks could take 10 minutes or 2 hours, you just never know because of the unpredictability. You’re dependent on nature and what nature decides to do. That was and still is hard for me to adapt to. I definitely struggle with the plan changing or having to do something unexpectedly. I would make a plan in my head and learned that the plan will always change and I must adapt. But through the experience I have gained a sense of patience and am still working on it. I went through many of these experiences with my co-worker and roommate Adi, she taught me a lot about myself and demonstrated how kindness can go a long way. I have found out how strong and capable I actually am, mentally and physically.
Next steps are clear, but go in several directions. I immensely appreciate what the Indreland’s and other regenerative ranchers do and I want to support them by using my strengths. Whether that’s working behind a computer and having relations with ranchers and advocating for ranches or physically working on a Ranch but maybe on the business side, I’m not exactly sure yet. There are a lot of paths to follow, but I do want to remain in the agriculture world of Montana. I’m excited for my next step now that I’ve been through such a transformational experience. I’m very thankful for the NAP team, my mentors Roger and Betsy, my co-worker Adi and myself for showing up. I look forward to continuous learning and practice in this new found joyful life path.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
A balance between community, nature and self-awareness are factors that could contribute to a meaningful life. I think this apprenticeship will deepen my understanding of each topic. We are all relational beings that need other people in order to survive. Community provides that support system. Nature nourishes our lives and allows us to observe and understand life cycles. Self-awareness is vital because when we are conscious of our beings and actions, then we can make intentional choices.
It’s a challenge to learn new things or acquire knowledge alone and community provides a basis for developing who we are as people. This apprenticeship has provided a wonderful community to develop as a person interested in regenerative agriculture and ranch life. From the mentors, other apprentices and the coalition staff I feel like we all have a strong base for the next 7-8 months in aiding us with all the novelty. Since we are all spread out, this also forces us to rely on our local communities and understand how they do things. Nature keeps us rooted and provides us with the knowledge and nourishment our minds and bodies need. I am excited to learn so much more about soil health and how the long term effects of regenerative agriculture promote healthier animals, people and planet. Nature calls us to deepen our relationship with the land and we are able to do that each day. Observing nature brings meaning to micro and macro aspects of life, revealing what works and what doesn’t. As an apprentice I get the enhanced opportunity to listen and pay attention to what nature is telling me. Self-awareness allows us to take everything we’ve gathered and be able to distinguish what gives us purpose. Being aware of the fact that my attitude and mind set affect everything around me allows me to choose what I want to see. My time on the Indreland Ranch so far has already given me daily opportunities to step back and learn something new about myself.
Through all the learning experiences and challenges to come, I hope to incorporate community, nature and self-awareness in my choices to better myself and the ranch. I was chosen to be a role here and I look forward to bringing purpose to the life around me.