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
The learning at San Juan Ranch has never seemed to stop, just like the work that needs done on a ranch. I’ve learned a lot and have so much to take away with me in my next adventure. It’s hard to pin point everything I have learned, though. One thing that stands out when it comes to my learning, is figuring out how to work with a team that is much larger than I am used to. It has involved learning how to take everyones opinions and ideas, and applying them in a way that makes the people feel valued and effectively addresses the work that needs to be done. While at times I feel like working with multiple people can be challenging. It really boils down to good communication and good listening, when that occurs though the whole experience can really be enjoyable and effective.
I have also been able to gain more knowledge around grass finishing cattle, and feel that I have a lot of big takeaways that I can apply to my own grass-finishing operation back home with my dad. I was fortunate to come to an operation that really takes grass-finishing seriously and one that has a lot of experience in that realm. I was able to understand both the successes and failures my mentors have experienced in the grass-finishing world that have helped them get to where they are today. Along with understanding grass-finishing much better, I was also able to develop my knowledge around water lines and how to manage complex watering systems. Overall I learned many new things pertaining to several different aspects of ranch management including better ways to graze livestock holistically, stockmanship skills, ranch maintenance, and much more.
I am looking forward to taking all of the skills I have gained here at San Juan Ranch working alongside George, Julie, Sam, and Noelle and applying them to my next steps within agriculture. Working with this group of people has really boosted my confidence, and I feel that they have helped immensely in preparing myself for a ranch management position and in helping me be more prepared to help manage my family’s grass-finishing business. I feel like I continued to develop my people skills through this apprenticeship, and it has made me think critically about how the people you work with and surround yourself with are integral for personal success and business success. I hope to carry this realization with me to my next job, and am looking forward to implementing some of the concepts that I have learned from Julie, so that I can effectively manage a team of people and make it so that the people around me feel valued and are successful.
While I don’t really believe anyone is ever 100% prepared for whatever their next steps in life or work may be. I feel that this apprenticeship has demonstrated and solidified that the combination of being a lifelong learner and always striving to be better each day will go a long way in preparing anyone for their next steps. The highlight of my year here at San Juan ranch can be summed up by being able to spend time with great people. I feel that I have made lifelong friends, and made several other meaningful connections with other apprentices, neighbors, and friends of George and Julie’s. The biggest challenge will be having to leave my mentors and new friends behind, when there is an endless amount of work to be done here at San Juan Ranch. I know though the work will get done, the people will be successful, and the seasons will change bringing with it new people that will experience learning and growth here at San Juan Ranch.
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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