New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Joshua McKenna, APPRENTICE, Round River Resource Management, CO
When I came out to the Brett Gray Ranch to work for Round River, I already had some agricultural experience. Having previously worked for stables, dude ranches, and a cattle feedlot, the foundation of skills was already there. However, coming out to the ranch exposed me to completely new environments and techniques. Pasture management, high-density grazing, low-stress stockmanship, ATVs, calving, castrating, these were all things I had no prior knowledge of. Holistic management is something I had only heard of passing, not something I had any real understanding of. Now, as this apprenticeship comes to a close, I’ve learned many new skills and can take these forward with me into the future, whether those would be at a second year apprenticeship, or at a new job.
Beyond new skills though, I have also learned about myself during these past 8 months. Just past the halfway point of my time out here, I suffered an ATV accident. The accident put an abrupt halt to my ability to work. It was a very disheartening time, watching my peers continue to go and do the job I had worked so hard to be a part of. However, I resolved to stay at the ranch, and try to help out where I could while recovering. When I couldn’t work, I committed myself to research, trying to further broaden my knowledge by reading books and online articles, watching videos, or listening to podcasts and talk shows. And I learned that I have the ability to persevere, to keep trying and not allow discouraging thoughts and words dissuade me from a path I know is right. I learned that I am truly in love with this life, and I want to work. I learned that things I had previously thought were so important to me, were only gilded chains holding me back from achieving what I really want in life. These things I’ve learned will empower me, allowing me to focus on what matters and not get distracted by things that don’t.
As the apprenticeship wraps up, I can only reflect upon some key moments from my time here. There were definitely moments where I struggled, largest of all being the aforementioned accident. But others also stand out, such as having to hike three miles back to headquarters after Marcos, Rachael, and myself got four separate vehicles stuck in the bog and only was able to get one out. Or when I got myself, my actual body, stuck in a mudhole a couple months later, trying to stop our stockers from getting onto the neighbor’s land. While they felt particularly embarrassing and shameful at the time, now I can look back and laugh, using them as funny anecdotes to share with friends. Yet, the memories that shine brightest in my mind are those of enjoyment and triumph. Times where Nick taught me about certain aspects of working the electric fence. Herding cattle to the pens on a particularly foggy morning with Marcos. Laughing with Rachael about a humorous incident or joke, on the job or back at our shared house. I was very blessed to have come to the location I did, and to work with the people here. I had excellent senior co-workers and I could not have asked for a better roommate.
Probably my favorite memory was of a particular morning. It was a colder morning for summer. We had headed out to bring the herd to the next pasture and I was by myself. We had split up to gather the cattle into one herd, each to separate parts of the pasture. As I came to the fence, signaling the edge of my allotted territory, I noticed a falcon sitting on the post. I kept approaching, moving closer and closer, until I was no more than eight feet from the bird. At this moment, it took off, swooping down low to the ground on the opposite side of the fence as I, flying parallel to it. Swept up in the moment, I gunned my ATV, following close behind. Soon, we were neck and neck, and I was so close to it that had the fence not been there, I could have reached out and run my fingers over its wing tip. We raced for what felt like a small eternity, until the falcon pulled away. As I watched it fly off, I noted the sun, rising over the field, bathing the world in a golden hue and the cattle grazing as dust rose off their backs, creating swirling patterns in the light and shadow. And I thought to myself, There is no life I belong to more than this.
As I carry all of this into the future, victories, disappointments, joy, sorrow, laughter, and new skills, it becomes apparent what my next steps are. I plan to continue learning, by consuming more knowledge, and exposing myself to new ideas and experiences. I plan to keep pursuing my dream career, by applying for a second year apprenticeship at a different location. Beyond that, I hope to keep growing my skills in stockmanship, and learn new things, such as breeding, the importance of bloodlines and different breeds, better pasture evaluation including plant identification and soil evaluation. I still very much desire to expand my horsemanship skills and knowledge, perhaps even acquiring my own horse soon. I very much learn by doing, and thus I want to continue going to clinics and demonstrations, where I can also meet more people in the agricultural field and build connections. And one day, if I am lucky, I hope to own my own piece of land and run my own herd, using the techniques and skills I’ve learned here. Then, I hope to share what I’ve been taught with those around me, my friends, neighbors, and family. Building a community of farmers and ranchers that work together to maintain healthy stewardship of the land and help each other is a long term goal of mine, where I can hopefully give back to a community that has given so much to me.
Growing up, I was told stories of the years my mom spent working ranches from horseback. The numerous adventures and exciting tales captured my imagination and it was with great pride that a three year old Joshua declared, “When I grow up, I want to be a cowboy!” Fate, it turns out, is quite artistic, since a couple years later, I wanted nothing to do with anything agricultural.
During my middle school and high school years, I was as far removed from agriculture as I could be, investing all my time into video games, movies, and TV. The closest I came was helping my sister with her horse’s stable fees by working the grounds and mucking stalls, a situation I absolutely despised. It wasn’t until leaving high school that I was put back in the saddle. Literally.
After high school, I took a gap year through a program called T.R.E.K., which was facilitated by the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. While I started out in their food service department, I quickly fell victim to cabin fever and began to look for an outdoors job. The only open position was as a wrangler for the on-site livery, Jackson Stables.
It was only a couple weeks into the job that an amazing moment happened. I was riding with the other wranglers, learning the trails. We were riding one called Moraine Park, which was named for the valley it took you through by the same name. It was a cloudy day, we had begun the descent into the valley. Just as we cleared the forest, i glanced up at the mountains. Pulling my horse to a stop, I could only stare in amazement as what seemed like a river of fog cascaded over the peaks and directly into the valley opposite of us. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen and it was at that moment that I knew. I was made for this.
Ever since, I have been on a journey to make animals and the land a permanent part of my life. I took jobs that allowed me to deepen my knowledge of livestock and to be out in wide, open country. I bought numerous books and read countless online articles. I spoke with people that were local to my area and reached out to experts for their opinions.
Now, as I begin my apprenticeship with NAP, I believe that the biggest thing I wish to gain is a career. I want to start the next chapter of my life, where the dream begins to materialize and I no longer have to keep wondering if it’s going to happen at all. Because I’ve been dreaming a long time and now, I want to make it a reality.