New Agrarian Voices

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





Amelian Hahn, APPRENTICE, Sather Farm and Ranch, MT

Final Reflections
November 2021

I feel as though I have learned a whole new vocabulary, practically a new language.  It is difficult to quantify the breadth of learning here over the last 8 months. It ranges from the every day words and product names, to the mentality of self -reliance and independence necessary to operate a ranch. There has been a steady stream of learning through listening to conversations and observing, all the while actively being taught the tasks of the season.

A few examples of the extensive list I have learned are:

I have really enjoyed learning to operate the machinery, which has gone from being big, green and intimidating to named implements, which I feel comfortable using. I really didn’t expect to be trusted to climb way up into the big tractor that pulls the air drill during seeding, but pretty quickly Jeff asked me if I wanted to learn to operate it. Astoundingly, so long as nothing failed mechanically, I was able to quickly learn how to run the big beast and ended up seeding quite a few acres all by myself.  

It turns out that installing a new well pump isn’t all that hard either with the right tools and a good teacher. During this dry summer we did a lot of work planning and installing waterlines, pumps and moving mobile livestock tanks. While I still don’t feel like I could undertake all these jobs unsupervised, I certainly know how to help on plumbing projects and understand the parts and tools that go into them. 

I have learned a whole lot about different every day tools. From almost weekly tire changes, to re-wiring extension cord plugs I now feel like I can pick out the correct tools and figure out most projects with enough time and a possible snoop on YouTube. 

In short I have learned a little bit about a lot of things, and I have deduced that that is pretty much how farmers and ranchers are able to succeed at what they do. The whole process of becoming handier has lead to increased confidence and a sense that I can probably figure out how to solve problems as they arise. This was one of my original goals when entering into the NAP program, and I am happy to say that I have made significant progress on that front. 

 As a split operation between farming and ranching we spent a lot of time and energy planning how to improve our crops, especially during such a challenging year. There was a period in June and July when we were going to soil health clinics and workshops almost every week. While no synthetic fertilizers were applied here, there is definitely a cocktail of nutrients put down with the seed.  Between prescribed regiments suggested by soil experts to boost nutrient availability, and our own mixture of vermicast and fish hydrolisate to incorporate healthy microbiology there was no shortage of experiments going on throughout the summer with the hopes of minimizing inputs on cropland. Whether it is a neighborhood garden or open range, I see so much more now when I look at land.  I feel that I internalized many of the principles of good soil stewardship and will be able to take that with me into other climates and ecosystems. 

My favorite subject here has been learning to handle the cows. I cannot believe how much I have learned about them. Driving home this last week, looking at thousands of acres of range land and cattle I kept blurting out things I had learned to my road trip buddy. Like the land itself I now see so many details about the cows that graze the west.  However, what I really enjoyed was observing them. I didn’t understand cows at all when I arrived.  I didn’t know how to move amongst them, how to ask them to move. I have spent plenty of time with horses, and I find myself constantly studying just how different the two species are from each other. I love to compare and puzzle about how two such large, social herbivores are so different in their reactions and relationships. The reactive, often dramatic horse requires a very different kind of leadership than the pragmatic, stoic cow. I am constantly seeking to improve my awareness of the energy field that we humans blunder through daily, but is so acutely felt by animals as seen through their observance of flight zones and reaction to pressure. Working with the cows has improved my horsemanship. Introducing my young horse to the concept of having a job has been hugely rewarding.  She has learned that there is a practical application for all of the movements I have been teaching her in a way that would be impossible to convey without cattle.  

My communication skills have improved as a result of my time as an NAP apprentice through interspecies interactions. I had always taken the route of accommodation over clarity, and will avoid the more difficult conversations in hopes of keeping everyone else happy. The Whit Hibbard low stress stockmanship clinic we attended made a big impression on me. In particular Whit’s wisdom on true leadership as opposed to nagging and cajoling or bullying. I had an epiphany when I realized that I try to always be clear, decisive and direct when asking for something from an animal, why don’t I do that with people? Realizing I already have the skills I need to address this challenge in my life was liberating. All I need to do is work on the translation from body language to verbal communication.  

 I plan to continue prioritizing animals in my career as I look to the future. Despite the immeasurable admiration and respect I feel towards those who choose this life, I am not 100% sure that full time production agriculture is the path I want to pursue. I am challenging myself to think about the future for myself without the opinions of other people or my ego getting in the way. Gaining this foundational knowledge has given me insight into this monumentally important industry, and I am exploring ways to incorporate what I have learned into a niche that includes community and education through animals. I have been looking to the vast network of people I have gained through the NAP program and realizing that there are many ways in which I can incorporate land stewardship, animals and people into a fulfilling career path.  As I write this I feel like I am on the edge of the rest of my life. I spent my 20’s exploring my interests and traveling the west in search of a riding job. Now in the beginning my 30’s I have a lot more confidence, self-reliance and experience with which to shape my life into the one I want to live. 

May 2021

Animals of all kinds have always powerfully fascinated me. The easy access and proximity to domestic and working animals has narrowed my focus in on them and lead me to seek a career working with horses. I became interested about food production when my health began to deteriorate in my early 20s. I spent the better part of a year unable to speak due to laryngitis. Doctors and specialists were mystified, and prescribed anti-reflux medicines and sent my on my way. Finally, becoming desperate, I went to a naturopath specialist who did blood work and discovered that I had developed allergies to a myriad of foods I had been eating my whole life. Perplexed and barely able to believe what she had discovered I began to learn about the microbiology of our guts, and the far-reaching effects on our bodies. This in turn steered my interest towards the actual nutritional values in whole foods found in grocery stores today. As I learned about decreasing nutrient density in foods, I simultaneously was introduced to the degraded state of land on which they are grown. Words like “holistic” and “regenerative” began to appear more frequently in my home research as I delved deeper into the affects of food on the body and mind.

Here at the Sather Farm and Ranch the business is split between cattle and small grain crops so I am able to expand my animals knowledge beyond horses, while also learning the impacts of different farming practices. Jeff is actively experimenting with various protocols for improving his soils to build resiliency and increase nutritional values of products grown here. The experience of working on a farm and ranch is giving me a more diverse introduction into professional agriculture than I had previously dreamed of.

 I am keen to learn what the reality of this lifestyle entails, the daily troubleshooting, brainstorming and, of course chores. I am glad to be here during the transitional phase of moving towards a regenerative model because I am learning how to think creatively about agriculture and along side a professional farmer and rancher. I have already learned so much about both crops and cattle, and we have not yet begun planting or calving. I am doing my utmost to take advantage of the wide array of knowledge here in hopes of becoming more skilled person both personally and professionally going forward.

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