Flying Diamond Ranch

Cow-calf operation with rotational grazing

The Ranch

The Flying Diamond Ranch (FDR) is a family-owned and operated ranching enterprise with a rich history and a commitment to sustainable land stewardship. The ranch is managed by the Johnson family, who are 4th and 5th generation ranchers. The family’s deep-rooted knowledge and experience in ranch management have been instrumental in the expansion of the operation from the original family ranch to the large-scale ranching enterprise in operation today; the operation spans from the CO/KS border to the Wet Mountain Valley and encompasses ~100,000 acres.

The ranch’s range management philosophy is centered on the principle that a grasslands ecosystem responds well to short periods of intensive grazing followed by long periods of rest. This approach has led to the development of a unique infrastructure that allows for precise control over grazing patterns, contributing to the health of the land and the cattle. FDR has been recognized at both the state and national level for its commitment to land stewardship. In 2015, the ranch was awarded Colorado’s Leopold Conservation Award, and in 2017, it won the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Region 5 Environmental Stewardship Award.

The ranch has also established successful relationships with various stakeholders, including the State Land Board, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Colorado Parks & Wildlife, as well as multiple landlords and business partners. These relationships enable the ranch to integrate management with various other properties and simplify cattle operations.

The Johnson family members have a diverse range of educational backgrounds and experiences, which contribute to the successful management of the ranch. In addition to the family members, the ranch employs a team of dedicated professionals who regularly attend training and development courses to enhance their skills and knowledge. This commitment to continuous learning and improvement is a key aspect of the ranch’s management philosophy.

Regenerative Practices

  • Rotational grazing at scale (60k acres so far, implementing it on an additional 40k acres)
  • Tracking and monitoring grazing and cattle performance

 

The Mentors

Will Johnson

Will Johnson is the CEO of FD and manages the units in Cheyenne County, where he lives with his wife and two sons. Will attended the University of Pennsylvania and was a Marine Corp officer prior to coming back to the ranch full time.

Charlie Johnson

Charlie is the COO of the FD and manages the Elbert and Lincoln County units.  He lives in Cheyenne county with his wife and three young kids.  Charlie received his undergrad and MBA from the University of Denver. In addition to ranching he is a co-owner of EastCo Group, an agricultural insurance agency. 

The Apprentice

Note: This is the first year that Flying Diamond Ranch will be joining the New Agrarian Program. Due to the remoteness of the site, they prefer 2 apprentices, preferably a couple in which both members of the couple will be apprentices.

What will an apprentice do?

Every day on the ranch begins with cattle checks; most importantly confirming water availability, then ensuring cattle are in the correct pasture and healthy and restocking salt/mineral. Due to our emphasis on grazing management, there are frequent cattle moves which involve building and tearing down temporary fencing and clearing pastures. Most afternoons will be spent doing ranch projects which may include fence maintenance, corral renovations, equipment maintenance, new electric wire fence construction, etc. The month of May is when we calve, which will be hands on for our first calf heifers that will be checked multiple times a day and tagged. Throughout the summer there are different processing days. In early June we will sort our breeding bulls and fertility test them. In late June we will brand (rope and drag) our ~2,500 calves. In late July we will turn out our breeding bulls on all herds, and AI our replacement heifers that summer up in the mountains.

What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?

  • Excellent communicator who is comfortable asking questions
  • A willingness to learn and try new things
  • Responsible and will do what you say
  • Positive, problem-solver attitude
  • Physically comfortable walking, carrying heavy things, and moving throughout the day
  • Desire to work in remote locations

Skills that An Apprentice would expect to acquire:

  • Safe use of equipment on the ranch, including trucks, trailers, atv’s, and tractors.
  • The care and feeding of cattle and horses
  • The building of fences, mostly electric but some traditional barbed wire 
  • How to assess the pasture for condition and quality and when to move livestock in or out of each pasture.
  • How to move, sort, work, and load cattle

Nuts & Bolts

 

Start Date: Ideal start date is March 15th, 2023 and the ideal end date December 15th, 2023.  Dates are somewhat flexible.

Length of Apprenticeship:  9 months, however we do try to be as flexible as we can with whatever time constraints that you may have. We consistently have full time positions come available and would hope that a successful apprenticeship would lead to a full time career here.

Stipend: Pay is calculated at $14.50/hour and a 40 hour week. Housing costs $400/month. Stipend, minus taxes and housing, will be paid at the end of each month.

General work hours: We begin most days at 8am (unless an earlier start is needed for a processing day). Often it will start with horse/feeding chores and then either a ranch property project, or an electric fence build day, or a ride out to move cows. The days are varied as it goes with ranching, and the priority is always the animals. We aim for the day to wrap up around 4:30pm.

Housing: Housing is provided in a 3 bedroom/2 bath house that is located in the middle of the Cheyenne County operation and 5 miles from the small town of Kit Carson, CO. The cabin has a kitchen. Washer and dryer are provided in the housing area. Our two apprentices will share this house. Some furniture and kitchen supplies are provided, but you are welcome to bring your own.

Internet availability: WiFi is available in the housing area.

Cell Service: Service is good. Most providers work.

Time off: Usually, the only work on the weekends is basic cattle/water checks. We rotate between the team on who takes care of these days, so that everyone has many chances to have weekends off. If a team member wants to take a week day off, we are flexible as long as they make up that time during another day.

Visitors: Visitors are welcome.

Food: Hamburger is provided and lunch on processing days. Otherwise apprentices are expected to handle their own food.

Pets: Well behaved dogs are allowed. (Must be able to follow you without leash and not harass livestock).

Horse Use: Horse use is not a requirement for any employee. Those that wish to use horses will have multiple opportunities a week. We rope everything at branding, do some doctoring out in the pasture, and do some cattle moves/checks on horseback. Those that wish to learn about riding horses, we are happy to train you on the basics on one of our good ranch horses.

All the fun stuff: Tobacco and alcohol use in moderation are permitted at your housing area/in your off time.

Health insurance: The ranching lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. We carry Workman’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job.

Ranch Vehicles: Apprentice will use ranch vehicles for work, to include pickups, skid steers, tractors, trailers, and ATVs.

Personal Vehicle: A personal vehicle is highly recommended for apprentice independence on their time off and to get to town for free time activities/errands.

Additional items an apprentice should bring: Good footwear, outerwear, eye protection, and work gloves.

Living in Kit Carson:

  • Grocery shopping: There is a small grocery/convenience store in Kit Carson, slightly bigger stores in towns 30 minutes away. Safeway and Walmart are available in towns 1 hr away. Costco is 1hr 45 min away in Colorado Springs.
  • Dining: There is one restaurant in Kit Carson and a few more in the 3 towns 30 minutes away.
  • Entertainment: There are local rodeos and fairs in the surrounding towns.

Quivira Coalition Activities: This apprenticeship is offered through Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. The full cohort of apprentices on regenerative ranches and farms across the west will attend an April orientation, participate in supplemental education Zoom calls, complete skills checklists with their mentors, and attend the annual REGENERATE Conference in November. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship that will be posted in the New Agrarian Voices blog on the Quivira website.