New Agrarian Voices

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





Matt Brant, APPRENTICE, Barthelmess Ranch, MT

May 2021

I became interested in ranching through my family and the quality time spent together at our ranch in Albany, Texas. I am part of the fourth generation of family members at Lambshead Ranch. Lambshead has been owned and operated by our family since the late 1800s. I did not grow up on the ranch, but many of my best memories shared with my parents, brother, and cousins have been made there. I learned from a young age that I love life on the ranch. Through this apprenticeship I hope to gain a better understanding of the ranching business so that I can be an active and well-informed participant in the management of our ranch.

As a member of the fourth generation I hope to bring innovative ideas to Lambshead. In my first month spent here at the Barthelmess Ranch I have already learned innovative practices ranging from low-stress livestock handling techniques to regenerative grazing management. At the basis of all practices on the ranch is a focus on improving soil health. An example of this can be seen in how the Barthelmess Ranch is handling their current drought situation. 

Droughts often put ranchers in the uncomfortable situation of having to cull their livestock. However, Chris and Leo Barthelmess do not seem to be quite as uncomfortable with the idea of culling. This is because they have put a higher value on their land health than on their herd genetics. They have spent years using their cattle as a tool to improve the value of their land. Their philosophy is that cattle will come and go, but your soil and grassland health is a value that your ranch will always have to fall back on. 

This idea of using cattle as a tool to increase grassland health is something that I want to take back to Texas. Texas is 95 percent privately owned land. This means that in Texas conservation has to happen on the private land ownership level. I personally believe that private land conservation is the most effective conservation. As seen at the Barthelmess Ranch, improving soil health has economic benefits for the rancher, while at the same time helps to improve diversity and resilience in the grassland ecosystem. 

I hope to learn as much as I can about local collaborations between the ranching community and the environmental community here in Northeast Montana. One such program is the Nature Conservancy’s Matador Ranch grass bank. The grass bank uses cattle from local ranchers as a management tool to improve grassland health. In return for their service, the ranchers pay a subsidized rate for the land that they lease. 

It often seems like environmentalists and ranchers are two groups that have little in common and few shared interests. However, here at the Barthelmess Ranch it is clear that there is great value in the partnership between these two communities. This is evident by a sign that sits just off the county road that reads, “Love the prairies? Thank a rancher.” Through this apprenticeship I hope to learn how to foster a community that shares this sentiment.

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