New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Bridger Rardin, APPRENTICE, San Juan Ranch, CO
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
Growing up I never had much of an interest in agriculture, and I sure didn’t want to make a career out of it. I grew up on my family’s small sheep ranch, immersed in open space with mountains and a sea of short-grass prairie surrounding me. While I never thought agriculture would be my calling, I did know at a young age that I wanted to have the open space and the freedom that came with growing up on a ranch in my future. As I grew older my connection with agriculture and my family’s ranch continued to fade, the ranch was sold and my family and I moved to town.
It wasn’t until I was in college, taking a rangeland ecology course that sounded interesting for an elective, that I even began to think about agriculture again. We were learning how to figure stocking rates on rangelands and it made me think about my family’s ranch and I started to wonder about our ranch’s stocking rate. The next class period we were learning about the grass species in the Laramie valley and I recognized grasses like blue gramma and needle and thread from my childhood walks herding sheep throughout my summers, but had never known their names. Throughout that semester, the material I was learning kept drawing my mind back to the ranch and how it would’ve applied to what my dad had been doing when he was managing that land. At some point during that semester I mentioned to my parents how fascinating I found this rangeland ecology course, and how it seemed to have a lot of overlap with what I remembered from our ranch.
Taking that class was the beginning of my interest in agriculture, and maybe more so of a renewed interest in what I had forgotten from my own childhood. After that class I basically went down the rabbit hole into agriculture, I was convinced by my parents to spend some of my college savings and buy some cows as an investment. Not really knowing too much about cows initially, since most of my experience had been with sheep when I was younger, I started searching out all of the literature I could find that combined land management and raising cows. The more I read, the more interesting I found agriculture, especially when it came to benefitting land with grazing animals. Ultimately, it was the little things from growing up on a ranch that interested me and ended up bringing me back into agriculture: like the smell of the prairie after a summer rain, watching a border collie work livestock in a graceful intricate dance, the changing of one season to the next, or the emergence of new life during a lambing and calving season.
While I may not always be learning something completely new or foreign like driving a tractor and dragging hay meadows, backing up a truck and trailer, working livestock, or even setting up an electric fence while I am an apprentice. I will constantly be refining my skills while at the San Juan Ranch and learning more of the nuances that are required to effectively manage an agriculture enterprise. This will involve a little bit of everything, especially when it comes to working in a large team and building fun, healthy relationships with the all people my mentors and the ranch relies on to operate smoothly. I will also have a better grasp on holistic management and how it is applied in a ranching context, as well as gaining new appreciation for different environments and the intricacy at play with community, culture, and land management.
I am fortunate for this opportunity. I leave behind my dad along with help from my mom to manage my cows, our leases, and our grass finished beef business with the hope that I will be able to bring new knowledge back to my business and my community. There will be aspects that I keep the same within my ranching business at the end of this apprenticeship, but there will be far more things that I change and adjust. Ultimately I know I will gain more from this apprenticeship than I could’ve ever imagined, and that it will more than likely be different than my initial expectations, but at the end of the day I know it will all be a good experience.
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