New Agrarian Voices

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





Graham Holtrop, APPRENTICE, Diamond D Angus, MT

Final Reflections
November 2021

I am almost finished with my New Agrarian Apprenticeship as I write this. I started back in April, which does not feel all too long ago. I look back at myself in April, and how much I have grown since then. I set out with specific goals in mind when I started out. I wanted to really improve upon my grazing knowledge and abilities, and my stockmanship. I certainly grew in these two areas and gained many other skills necessary on a ranch. Not only did I learn specific skills for a career in agriculture, but I also made valuable connections and grew as a person. 

I started out at Diamond D Angus working with Jim Spinner the ranch manager. Diamond D is a registered Black Angus seedstock ranch. Jim and I worked together every day. Working alongside him every day I was able not only to watch how he did things, but I could also bother him with really any question I could think of. Starting out I struggled with skills that now seem basic. Time passed and in just a couple months working at Diamond D it felt like I kind of knew what I was doing. We grazed cattle through all kinds of weather conditions and on irrigated and dryland pastures. I found many opportunities to work on my stockmanship abilities with Jim when we moved cattle. I worked through my first calving season. I fixed a fair bit of fence and water infrastructure. Whenever I encountered a problem, I had a partner to help me solve it.

I moved on from Diamond D, but I continued my apprenticeship at Barney Creek Livestock. I was nervous to switch operations and workplaces. Barney Creek Livestock is a small ranch with a direct-to-consumer business model marketing and selling mainly grass fed and finished beef as well as pork and lamb. Working at BCL, I would learn to master irrigation and fixing any problem that a geriatric wheel line could throw my way. I would also get the opportunity to graze cattle on several different leased properties. I earned the responsibility of making the majority of grazing decisions, implementing semi-permanent and temporary electric fence to control the grazing, and setting temporary water infrastructure. I took a lot of what Jim and I worked on side-by-side every day regarding stockmanship and grazing and practiced on a smaller herd under my management. It started to give me confidence in my ability as a grazier and stockman that I could only get from taking responsibility for the herds day to day care. 

Looking back at my journey through The New Agrarian Program there were challenges, especially moving to a new town and working with new people halfway through. When I look at the bigger picture, I think I was fortunate for everything I experienced. I started out working with a great teacher, who gave me the tools and helping hand I needed. Then moving operations to BCL, I had mentors to back me up, but I had much more responsibility. This new responsibility was my biggest challenge, yet my greatest learning experience. 

What’s the reasoning behind developing skills in stockmanship and grazing? Why am I spending my days growing as much grass as possible to feed cattle? Cattle contribute positively to the environment and human health. Grazing cattle properly creates healthy soil and plant ecosystems. I moved cattle everyday with temporary electric fence and low-stress handling, so that they impact the pasture to my desired level. Sometimes I want cattle to place light impact or heavy impact on the pasture. Cattle impact describes how much forage they eat, trample, and their manure distribution. The longer they stay in one place; the more forage they eat, less gets trampled into the soil, and more manure distribution. The level of desired impact depends on a variety of factors including weather, pasture growth, economics, and animal performance. No matter what level of impact I allow the cattle to create, I always let the pasture fully recover. The pasture should not look like a golf course, rather you should have trouble walking through the thick, dense sward with a polyculture of grazable plants. Cattle are moving lawnmowers and fertilizers. The cattle impact the pasture, then the pasture receives proper rest. When the pasture receives proper rest, it grows back thicker and denser above ground and below. The improved leaf and root structures create healthier soil providing more habitat and nutrition for earthworms, microorganisms, insects and more. Healthy soil and pasture feed healthy cattle. When we eat these healthy cattle, their meat contains more nutrients than ‘conventional’ beef. A skill set in grazing and stockmanship gives people the means to efficiently use cattle to heal soil and people. 

When I think to myself that everyday my work with cattle contributes to healthy people and planet, it satisfactorily excites me. The big question becomes ‘what are you going to do next?’. When I look towards the future, I must consider balancing a career in agriculture with relationships, finances, and quality of life factors. The immediate next step for me is to return to school at Washington State University. Rather than study agriculture, I will complete a degree in finance. When I move forward in life, I want to have a solid foundation of financial literacy. I will also focus on building connections in the farming and ranching communities in my home state of Washington. The New Agrarian Program showed me the power of making connections with the people doing the work I want to do. While my main interest and experience so far has been with cattle, I do want to explore vegetable, fruit, and small livestock production. Opportunities abound in regenerative agriculture for young people, and I want to be open and flexible as I find these opportunities. I do not want to mentally confine myself to just beef cattle production. First and foremost my goal in agriculture is to feed people and heal soil, whether that be with cattle or kale. 

May 2021

During my lunch break, I popped into a bookstore next door to where I used to work. I liked to go in there from time to time to just look at what kind of books they had. One day I grabbed a book title “The world ending fire. The Essential Wendell Berry” by Wendell Berry. Wendell has strong opinions on quite a few subjects, especially Agriculture, and I tended to agree with him on his views about it. He piqued my interest in Agriculture, and it sent me down a rabbit trail of books related to what some would call Regenerative Agriculture. A book got me interested in agriculture. It got me excited about how quality farming and ranching can create positive economic, social, cultural, and nutritional change in our communities. 

I finally got some experience in Ag, outside of a book, when I interned at Alderspring Ranch during the summer of 2020. They run an awesome operation and I was able to experience first-hand how a ranch managed the right way really could make great economic, social, cultural and nutritional change. I fell in love with managed grazing and helping produce a high-quality animal protein. This experience sprung me to where I am now at Diamond D Angus Ranch. I wanted an experience where I could learn more about the genetically correct animals to graze, as well as gaining work experience managing cattle herds with low inputs and in a managed grazing system. I have already learned a lot about all three of those things just in my first month alone. I am hoping to expand on this knowledge and to really just get comfortable grazing cattle on a day to day basis.   

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