New Agrarian Voices

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

Megan Schmidgall, APPRENTICE, Chauvet Ranch, MT

REFLECTIONS AFTER THE FIRST MONTH

As a typical youth of this generation I graduated from high school and went to college without knowing specifically what line of work I wanted to pursue. Instead of switching my degree numerous times like many others I chose an education that would help me in any kind of line of work, a Bachelor of Liberal Arts Degree at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. This allowed me time to get to know myself and my skills better on my own and away from the comforts of home. 

The courses I took were very intellectually taxing. They made it necessary for me to break away from my studies and the intellectual life to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. The college is snuggled amongst the hills with a ranch surrounding it upon which cattle roam. During my junior year of college I was able to help with the ranch’s round up due to my elder brother having known and worked for the rancher who owned the cattle. I had already had a desire to work on the ranch for some time but the opportunity did not present itself till then. I procured a job working Saturdays on the ranch. 

This gave me a small taste, of the ranching lifestyle. This lifestyle can be viewed either focusing on the extreme hard work and stress that taxes one physically and emotionally or the focus can be upon the beauty one experiences. This beauty is found in the little things which have become some of my favorite experiences. For example, some of them were watching the cattle roam in the distance as I fixed fence, hearing the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees as I helped move a herd of lowing cattle, and watching the road wind away while riding in the bed of a pickup perched on top a bale of hay soaking in the sunshine. Those Saturdays were an outlet to me physically as I had been cooped up studying all week. However, one thing specifically intrigued me. Much skill and knowledge is required to live this lifestyle, it requires just as much intellectually as physically. Ranchers are put into situations that constantly necessitate them to “MacGyver” their way out. They are required to have knowledge of operating varying pieces of equipment run, the soil, animals, and the list goes on. The amount of knowledge they need in many varying fields surprised me. This realization that ranching is a lifestyle that combines both the intellectual and physical life into one made me desire to pursue it.

The summer after I graduated from college I was unable to get a job as a full time ranch hand due to my limited experience. However, I acquired a summer job in Wyoming as an assistant cook and ranch hand on a dude ranch. I learned many things during this summer from how to be a camp cook to packing a mule, or even riding one! I wanted more than this job could offer me. I wanted first off to work with cattle and second off to know and understand the full picture of how the ranch operated. I believe that, I, as most, are better workers when the whole of the operation is understood rather than just doing as told. That is what I wish to gain from this apprenticeship. A view of what ranching is completely, a total emersion into its lifestyle.  I see this as a chance to share in the joys and sorrows of the men and women who run cattle so that I can discover if this is the kind of life I wish to lead and a lifestyle that is truly fitting to my character.

FINAL REFLECTION

It’s strange to think that my time here at the Chauvet’s ranch is coming to an end. I’ve been here for almost 9 months now. When I first drove in I was like a bright eyed and bushy tailed bunny rabbit with only a small idea of the hard work that ranch life held for me. Now I look down at my hands as I type this up and see how worn they have become by just these few months. I see my scars and callouses and I smile. I earned every one of them and love every one cause of the trials that were endured to gain them. Now do not get me wrong most of these trials were filled with joy, each a different kind of joy. To describe it is almost something impossible. However, to sum it up, I would have to say that the joy that has encompassed the whole of this experience has been the joy of learning. 

I have learned many things with the help of the Chauvets. The opportunity to work on their ranch has allowed me to develop both physical and intrinsic skills. I must say when I first got here I was kind of a softie, physically speaking. I struggled lifting many things and was so exhausted at the end of the day that all I wanted to do was sleep. Now as I put things away that used to be hard to lift I chuckle to myself because they feel so light. I have developed an endurance that I never knew I was capable of until I was pushed every day to do better and for that I am grateful. Additionally, throughout these months, I have learned how to take care of cattle. I can now look a cow or calf and tell for the most part if it is healthy or sick. I can see from their movements what their thinking and know how my movements will affect the way they move. I can look at the grass in a pasture and be able to tell if it is time to move the cows out of it or not. Most importantly, I have learned that though I may know these things I still have much to learn. Animals and the earth were given to us to care for as stewards by God. There are many things we know yet there are many we do not. The biggest challenge and lesson to learn is to have the ability to adapt and change as we learn more about what has been placed in our care. 

As my body grew stronger so did my soul. Managing land and cattle can lead to many hardships and struggles. As I grew up in the city, the stress of this lifestyle was something completely foreign to me. There were many times I could not do something or struggled for hours trying to accomplish a simple task. I have learned that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. That one should develop the ability to know when to admit that you are struggling. This admittance is not a failure or you giving up, but it is a humbling admittance of where you are in journey of knowledge and skills. I have learned that this is one of the most important skills to have in life no matter what you do.  

Further I have learned to carry on through the mistakes and hardships. When working with animals there is going to be death and sickness at times. I will never forget the calves that died on my watch but I must thank the Chauvets for helping me to move past it. One time in particular I’ll never forget, it was this past Easter. I sat in a truck in the middle of the pasture all night between checks on the calving cows. It was rather frigid and there was much snow on the ground. I lost a calf in the river and didn’t discover it till much later when there was a thick sheet of ice over it. When Shane got down there he told me I would never forget it, and would try better next time, but what happened had happened. It was Easter, he said, and that we would get our chores done, the dead calf out of the river, and then go celebrate Easter with his family. I will never forget that lesson. Yes, I have lost more calves but that is part of the job. I have learned that how you react to your mistakes is important. I learned that you must pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and keep trying even if you fail at the same thing multiple times. To pick myself up I have found that looking at all the beauty around me helps give me strength. When you work outside you get to experience so much of the earth’s beauty. Some of my favorite things that always make me smile are: a perfect snowflake landing in my hair where I could see all its delicacy and complex design, calves running around, wildflowers growing, sunlight beaming through the trees, or bumping through a field on a four wheeler on a hot summer afternoon. Each day offered me a new experience that gave me a reason to keep going and to have joy in my life.

I hope to continue to live applying all the lessons I have learned. No matter what I do these lessons have made me a better and stronger person. The specific skills that I have learned about cattle, I hope to apply to my own operation over time. I am very interested in the idea of homesteading, having a diversity of animals and directly marketing them. I believe this way of life is a good way to live. A good not only for yourself but also for your family and your community. I plan to take one step at a time and keep heading in the direction of accomplishing my dreams no matter how long it takes. My biggest goal is to enjoy each step of my journey and whatever trials and joys it might bring me along the way.

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