New Agrarian Voices

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





Ryan Koch, APPRENTICE, Barthelmess Ranch

November 2023

My time in the apprenticeship program is coming to an end. To sit here in October and look back at the past year. From last November when I applied with no expectation of being chosen for an interview, to interviewing, accepting a position, and taking the 31-hour drive from Maryland to Malta, Montana during a snowstorm in early March. How fast this year has gone. I have learned so much and this opportunity has meant so much to me and this journey has forever changed my life and my goals for the future. 

Arriving with little experience I got to experience the end of a harsh Montana winter and go into calving season with excitement. I have always enjoyed staying up late, so checking heifers every two hours at night seemed fun to me. Well after five weeks of little sleep I was quite glad when our last heifer had her calf. However, I’d never experienced a birth before and there truly is something special about waking up at 2 a.m. and seeing a heifer who needs her calf pulled. Loading her into the barn and pulling out a calf. That new life is something that truly cannot be explained but only experienced and I am forever grateful for those long cold nights. This year was an exceptional spring with a lot of snow melt and late May rain. Leading to an abundance of tall green grass, something that was needed in the region and welcomed by everyone. As we transitioned from calving to branding season, a new adventure awaited. I was able to go to so many community brandings and the hard work and general joy of everyone in the community at these events was so infectious to be around. In an area which can feel so remote I have never felt so welcomed and accepted as I did by the ranching community outside of Malta. As the days got longer and hotter it came time to hay. For me this meant a month and half spent in the swather. This is a job that can be long and quite boring, but I enjoyed the time in the air conditioning as the mosquitos and grasshoppers swirled around. You have so much time to think while haying and for me I made sure to savor that time of solitude and peace in the hay fields. Not to mention I also got the ranch record for largest rock stuck in the swather! As the summer came to an end, we focused on moving our herds around and maximizing our grazing to fatten up our steers. We now have our pairs sorted and preconditioned and are preparing for shipping. 

All these tasks were new to me, and I have learned a great deal of technical and mechanical skills. I have learned so much about stockmanship and animals and plants. I am beyond grateful for all these skills I have learned but the most important things I’ve learned haven’t been about the skills but the life lessons which I will carry with me forever. Patience is one of those skills, working with livestock requires a great deal of patience. When working in a low stress way, you can’t bully the cows into moving but have to use skill and patience to handle them. As I am always told, less is more. This is true with livestock but with so much more. Gratitude is another important skill which I’ve learned about myself while out here. Being grateful for what you have and not wanting more or demanding more is something that I have truly come to understand. Material objects are unimportant when you get to wake up everyday and do something you love. The most important lesson though is that of connection. Human connections are so important. My mentors and their families have taken me in and taught me so much and treated me like family since the day I’ve arrived. The friendships and career connections I have made through this experience have meant so much to me. Everyone you meet has something to teach you and if you’re willing to listen you can learn and grow from those experiences. 

This year has been one of challenges. It wasn’t easy to move across the country to an entirely new place, so different from where I come from. To leave my family and friends. Give up my job, all for this crazy idea that I wanted to try being a rancher. Yet without challenges, life is one of comfort and boredom and these challenges helped me to grow and push myself like I never have before. The successes wouldn’t have felt nearly as good without the hard work to get there. The sweat and blood and doubt all culminates in a feeling of triumph at the end of a hard days work, one which you didn’t know if you were going to make it too, but somehow you always did. 

As I look toward my future, I am excited to take all these lessons that I have learned from this experience and continue with a career in agriculture on the East Coast. In a completely different world from the one I am now, a world that could use a little bit more of that Malta, Montana attitude. Prior to this experience I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do in the future, and I still don’t. I have the skills now to succeed though and a guidepost for where I want to go. I will always be grateful for this opportunity and remember the lessons I have learned in this apprenticeship. As I look out towards my last few sunsets in the wonderful state of Montana, and prepare for my next step in life, I will never forget the wonder of the great plains of Eastern Montana, the Mountains of Western Montana, the quiet solitude of the Hi-Line, the snow packed March, the sweat drenched August, or the cooling air of this October. I have never seen truer beauty in my life, and it will last with me forever.

April 2023

My journey into the agriculture field is not one that I would have expected for myself, but it has been a great adventure so far and I look forward to continuing to develop my skills to succeed in the field. I did not grow up in an agricultural family and that had never been my plan for my life. During college and while completing my degree I took a job at a local farm near my home in Maryland. During this time, I found that I had found something that I loved to do, and it was something I had never thought I would be doing. This work led me to working at a butcher shop and solidifying my decision to pursue a career in the agricultural field. There is something meaningful in providing food on people’s plates with hard work and care given to the animals that provide such an important nutrient to us. I knew that working with the land instead of against it was also important to me and that led me to this wonderful opportunity and apprenticeship. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from my mentors and their years of experience and what it takes to run a ranch and provide adequate land stewardship in a career where you have to constantly change what you thought worked and look for new solutions to issues all while dealing with factors out of your control. At the end of the day, I hope to grow my skillsets as a young person in the agriculture field and transfer the lessons I’ve learned to grow as person as well.

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