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.

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