New Agrarian Voices

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

Jeane Stafford, APPRENTICE, Shultz Ranch, MT

REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH

My initial fascination with agriculture began early on in my childhood. Between my deep love for animals and growing up raising livestock on the family farm in northwestern Oregon, my interest in ranching grew. I’ve become especially interested in directly marketing grass fed beef to the consumer as well as the benefits of rotational grazing on the land and soil. Over the years, I have come to enjoy the type of work which comes from the agricultural way of life and working hard. Days where you might be dog tired at the end of a long day and maybe only checked half the projects off your list, but you feel satisfied with a job well done.

I am three generations removed from a time when my family owned their own sheep and cattle ranches so my level of experience has been limited up until starting this apprenticeship. However, my desire to learn and be a part of the ranching life style has been a great asset in this life changing endeavor and I am thrilled to be a part of this amazing learning experience. Since arriving at the Schultz Ranch in Grass Range, MT in mid-April, I have had a chance to experience and learn a plethora of knowledge. As the season progresses, I would like to continue adding more skills to my repertoire which will start me off on the right foot as I pursue a career in agriculture. Eventually, I would like to take on a managerial role on a ranch and perhaps one day, have the chance to own a ranch of my own. 

FINAL REFLECTION

Participating in the New Agrarian Apprenticeship program was one of the best life decisions I could have made. Coming into the program, I knew I was going to learn a great deal, but at the time, I didn’t know just how much that was going to be, or how rewarding the entire experience was going to be for me. 

I arrived at the Schultz Ranch located in Grass Range, Montana, in April during a snowstorm. They were in the middle of calving and ready for warmer days. I remember my second night on the ranch I was night calving with Johnnie, Nick and Marti Schultz’s 10 year old son. There were a couple of times I wasn’t sure the right thing to do, or how something worked, but Johnnie was more than thrilled to help me out. That was only the start. I’ve since done countless jobs where Johnnie, or one of the other two boys, has lended me a hand. It has amazed me how much I learned from everyone one the ranch, no matter their age.

My mentors, Nick and Marti Schultz, taught me a plethora of skills too. One of the skills I wanted to learn coming into the program was how to weld and Nick gave me every opportunity to teach me the basics and allowed me to work on a few welding projects that came up throughout the season. Some of the other things that I enjoyed learning during my time on the ranch were how to operate the different tractors and haying equipment, how to keep records, the different grass species found on the ranch, rotational grazing practices, and what to look for when selecting replacement heifers. One of the great things about learning from Nick and Marti was that I never felt like there was a question I couldn’t ask and they were both so eager, and willing, to help me learn. 

During the time I’ve been with the Schultzs, there have been a few challenges along with the good. One of my biggest challenges this year was that I always seemed to get stuck. Majority of the time, getting out wasn’t too difficult. There was just a little more walking involved to get help. However, we had a wet spring and when the tractor found a sink hole during the middle of farming and I experienced a whole new level of stuck. This difficult situation didn’t end when the tractor was pulled out. When the tractor got stuck, it was at such an uncomfortable angle for me that I ended up developing a fear that from then on anytime I was on a side hill, I was worried the tractor would tip over. This was a fear I had to face through the rest of farming season and throughout haying season. I knew it was all in my head, but it was a challenge I was going to have to face one way or another. To this day, I still have a hard time with being on side hills, but I’ve been able to push through the fear and build my confidence back. I believe this experience allowed me to connect and better help the horse I rode all summer.

The horse I had the pleasure to ride this year was one that spooked at just about everything when we were out riding, refused to cross creeks or go through thick brush or willow stands. Nick tasked me with working with her and it was one of my many highlights of the season. After only a few weeks of working with her, there was an instant where I jumped on her bareback with just a halter after about 20 yearling heifers blew through a fence after getting scared. We were in the creek keeping them from crossing and working them towards the opened gate. Since then, she’s been the horse that I’ve trusted to trail pairs through a couple acres of dense willow stands and to travel across a pasture without her spooking. Knowing that I’ve been able to help Nick out with a problem as well as be able to learn from this horse has been extremely rewarding along with all of the other things I have learned this year. I am confident that all of what I have learned this year will continue to develop and help me in my future. 

The tasks that I learned during the past 7 months have helped prepare me for my next step in life. From the Schultz Ranch in central Montana, I’m heading to North Dakota where I will be starting a new job as a vet assistant that primarily works with beef cattle. I believe that all what Nick has taught me about working cattle and having the opportunity to practice what I have learned helped me get this job and will continue to benefit me. I plan to run a few cows of my own in the near future and possibly get a few colts to train. With all of the new skills I have learned, I feel like my possibilities are endless and I’m excited to see what the future holds for my life in the agricultural community.  

I would like to thank Nick and Marti, who took the time to teach and explain why they do things the way they do them. Everyone might take a different approach to ranching and the areas which matter the most to them may vary, but it was nice to understand the logic behind the way the Schultz operate their ranch. I could bore people by listing all of the tasks I have learned how to do this season, but I think that’s one of the great parts about this program. You are fully immersed into this lifestyle and the day-to-day work that needs to be done. Every day is a little different and every season brings something new to look forward to. And now, my apprenticeship on the Schultz Ranch is coming to a close, but I’m ready more than ever to experience this new chapter of my life.

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