New Agrarian VoicesLearn about the impressions and experiences of each year's cohort of apprentices in their own words.
Emma Diaz, APPRENTICE, Chauvet Cattle Company, MT
The past eight months have simultaneously held some of the hardest and best moments of my life. Running a successful cow/calf operation is not for the faint of heart, but it sure is an incredible thing to see done well. Over my time at the Chauvet Cattle Company, I got to see up close and first hand the stages of cattle production from season to season. I got to learn right alongside my mentor how calving, branding, mob grazing, haying, breeding, preconditioning, shipping, pregnancy testing, and a whole lot more works. It really has been great, and eye opening, being at Shane’s side for a lot of my time out here. Since he’s done this his whole life, there were always things I could watch and learn from him.
Looking back on this time, one thing that stood out that I’ve gained would be a strong work ethic. This type of work is sun up to sun down, and there really are little to no “off” days. There truly is always something to do next, fix, check on, etc. I learned that not every job is glamorous, but someone still has to do them and do them well. I learned that there is joy to be found and lessons to be learned even in tasks like picking rocks and cleaning manure out of trailers. I also gained a much clearer picture of what it takes to be a mother and homemaker, as I helped out a lot with childcare and caring for my mentors’ home. I learned how to prepare meals for a family with confidence, how laundry really is endless, and that it takes a lot of hard work to keep a house clean with three young children. Days on a ranch are filled with highs and lows, much like any other job. There were precious moments when the five year old takes your hand and tells you how much he loves you, or when one of the twins prays for you before bed. And then there are times when you can’t seem to stop them from fighting, or calm them down after a tantrum over something seemingly so small. There are times of victory when you finally figure out how to build a fence correctly, and then deep disappointment for making a mistake you thought you knew better than to make again. But it’s in the hard moments where I grew the most.When my mentor would tell me he expected more from me, so I’d try my best to do better.
One of the greatest challenges in my apprenticeship was when my mentor and his wife got into a freak accident back in July where they were nearly both killed by a culvert flying into their jeep from a crazy storm. Shane nearly lost his left arm, and as a result could not do much around the ranch for a long time. I had to really step it up and even help more than I currently was and do a lot of things on my own. Slowly, Shane was able to come with me again but was extremely limited in how he could help. It got frustrating for both of us as he’d try to explain how to do things and I didn’t fully understand. But we’d always get through it, and I’d often be inspired when I’d think back over our day and realize how positive and grateful he’d been, simply to be alive. The accident changed the family’s perspective on ranching a good bit, as they realized they needed to make time with their family more of a priority. They had planned on scaling down their number of cows, but this event made them more eager to get to a point where they would be able to have some more free time to spend together.
The accident also led to one of the highlights of my apprenticeship though. In October, the Chauvets put together a hay auction for the Big Sandy Emergency Room and Ambulance, as a thank you for saving his life. They donated a semi load of hay, and it was incredible watching the town come together and be so generous. People would buy a bale, then donate it right back so that it’d make more money. Overall, the load generated over $30,000. In a year of much struggle with the drought and hay prices sky high, it was a very moving thing to see people come together and support each other.
Watching all of this play out so closely has made me love being a part of agriculture even more. The people that I’ve met are so supportive, kind, honest, and hardworking. Looking forward, I know I would love to stay a part of this community in some way. This past summer has also made the idea that work is not the most important thing to really sink in for me as well. So I hope to find a job that will allow me to have a more flexible schedule than I have now working on a cow/calf operation. I would love to be more present in my community, involved in church and outreach groups. I know now that I am too much of a people person to enjoy working on my own all the time, and would like to find a job that allows me to interact with others more. My mentor has also encouraged me that my strengths may lie more in a job like that as well. I am also planning on getting married this winter and would like to find a job slightly less demanding so that I can help set a tone in our home that family comes first. I may explore some different ranches involving horses around the Bozeman area, or even a job in marketing or sales to see if I’m any good at that.
Another highlight that I would not like to leave out is the community that Quivira brought me through the events held throughout the program. I now have wonderful friends and connections all over Montana. It was so much fun going to workshops learning alongside other apprentices who were all in the same boat as I was, and great getting to see other ranches and learning from such wise teachers as well as each other. The livestock handling clinic was especially impactful for me, and changed the way I worked with the cattle back at my own ranch.
Overall, I am so grateful for my time here. It was the hardest job I’ve ever had, but as a result I’ve learned so many things I never thought I would, and grew in ways that I never would have otherwise. I feel ready to take on whatever challenge lies ahead, knowing that whatever it is will most likely not be quite as demanding. I feel I have a deeper appreciation for land and the amount of work it takes to steward it well, so I hope I will continue to in some capacity work toward preserving Montana’s land for the generations to come. I will miss this place and these people I have come to love so dearly. But I am grateful to know that I will continue living in Montana and therefore be able to come back to visit and help the Chauvets in the years to come.
REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH
I’ve dreamed about being a cowgirl since I was 13 years old. Really, who doesn’t dream of riding off into the sunset and sleeping out under the stars at some point in their life? Working as a horse wrangler throughout my summers in college solidified my love for all things horses and western, but it wasn’t until I graduated that I really started thinking seriously about one day having my own land and livestock. A big reason is because I began spending a lot of time at a farrier friend’s farm, helping him care for his animals and land. Because of his generosity, hospitality, joy and patience I realized how truly beautiful a gift it’d be to live like that too. To work hard each day tending what we are given, then fall into bed trusting that it’s the Lord who provides in each season.
As great as it all sounds, I sure have a lot to learn before I’m ready to take care of any land or animals on my own. My hope is that through this hands-on apprenticeship I might be able to expand my knowledge and skills in overall ranching so that I might be an asset to whatever sort of operation I find myself at in the future. From fencing to feeding, pasture management to machine operation, I’m excited to learn it all. I hope this time might help me clarify what specific aspect of ranching I’m most gifted in, and then learn how I might be able to make it into a career. I want to preserve land well for future generations, so where else better to learn than from people who have already been doing so for decades? I am truly humbled and grateful for this opportunity to gain wisdom from some of the best out there.
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