New Agrarian Voices

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





Zach Nicholas, APPRENTICE, Knott Land and Livestock

April 2023

The Lost Tradition

When it comes to the question of how I got interested in agriculture, I suppose it’s best to understand I was born into a ranching family that had very recently lost our ranch and exited the business. In that sense, I have always been interested in agriculture, because it is what shaped my family’s values, habits, traditions, and pastimes. Both of my great-grandfathers had been ranchers at one point or another, one was born onto a sheep ranch, but it was my grandfather’s father who had not merely been born into the lifestyle but chose to adopt it as his profession. I grew up hearing the stories he told my dad about being born into a landscape of open range, where the prairie laid uninterrupted full of tall grass, where only livestock and small dwellings dotted the landscape. Having been born in 1912, he had helped build the first roads that crossed the desolate New Mexico landscape and participated in some of the last large cattle drives that echoed the times long past. He was there to see the transition, and watched as the ways of old were replaced by greed, efficiency, and decentralization. Growing up, my dad would tell me stories of the time he spent on his grandparents ranch, from the long days starting before the sun had risen only for his grandfather to exclaim “Hurry up we’re burning daylight,” to the large lunches they would call “supper,” and the talk of hard times they had experienced living through the Depression on the edge of the Dust Bowl. My dad, having grown up without his father, left me without a grandfather, but like my dad, I felt more connected to his grandfather because of the wisdom that he bestowed upon him. 

When it comes to what I am hoping to get out of my apprenticeship, first and foremost, it is best to understand my ancestors and the mindset that influenced me without even knowing it.  Additionally, I am hoping to understand what they experienced and dealt with daily, and to achieve a naive hope I could do anything to live up to their expectations and standards of what it means to be a cattleman, and a good man. While that may sound cliche, I will finish by sharing a piece of wisdom that my great-grandfather shared with my dad after a long day clearing a pasture of mesquite brush. The bed of the truck was jammed full and piled high above the cab, but rather than being happy or content my great-grandfather was more troubled than anything. After my dad saw his face, he asked him what was on his mind, and he stated “You know it wasn’t too long ago that we would be taking our own lives into our hands by taking more than we need.” His point was, don’t be greedy, take care of others, and share your resources or someone might kill you. While I am happy to no longer live in a world where the threat of death is ever present, I still think the idea of sharing is important to adopt especially if you want to be a cattleman. 

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