Seacross RanchEight-Month Cattle Ranching Apprenticeship in Lodge Grass, Montana
Meet the mentors
Our ranching philosophy:
We have been practicing regenerative and sustainable land and livestock management practices for over thirty years. We first took Allen Savory’s Holistic Resource Management class in 1984 when Allen was still teaching it himself. Although nobody had put a name to it at that time, Savory’s teachings laid the foundations of many of the land and livestock management practices now termed regenerative and sustainable. On our ranch we primarily use our cattle as tools for our regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices. We graze to promote improved nutrient cycling, retention of precipitation, improved plant species diversity, plant density, litter ground cover, and plant productivity.
We use all types of grazing methods such as early spring set stocking, summer and fall time and movement grazing, high stock density grazing, occasional fall-winter bale and/or windrow grazing, and low stock density winter set grazing to achieve these goals. We use some high-intensity timed grazing for weed control. Non-grazing regenerative and sustainable practices include (1) minimal use of herbicides for weed control, (2) elimination of pesticides for alfalfa weevils in our alfalfa-grass hay fields, and (3) decreased use of chemical fertilizers in our hay fields as we introduce clovers and diverse cover crop species inter-seeded into hay fields. We desire continued improvement in sustainable practices compatible with improved profitability in all aspects of our operation. Our apprentice will be exposed to the ideas and practices we have learned from the above influencers and help us will employ the practices that we have found work here for us.
Attributes desired in an apprentice:
There is no prerequisite to be from a farm or ranch background. Everything one needs to learn can be taught here. However, the following characteristics are desirable in an apprentice:
- Strong desire to learn the art and science of operating a cattle ranch
- Notably kind to animals of all kinds
- Willing and able to perform moderate, and sometimes hard, physical labor, work long days for several weeks during calving season and work in sometimes difficult weather conditions – from hot and dry to wet and muddy, sometimes cold with snow
- ability to ask questions, be creative, challenge our ways and contribute to our enterprise
- An apprentice with aptitude for learning how to drive pick-ups, ATVs and UTVS, and tractors and skid steers with implements and accessories and how to pull a stock trailer and other kinds of trailers will thrive.
- We work from horseback a lot. Horseback riding is not required, but prior riding experience would be useful. We can and will train those with some aptitude and interest but anyone can run a ranch from an ATV and be helpful in lots of cattle moving situations
- Our apprentice should be physically fit and able to hike several miles some days in steep, rugged country, sometimes carrying fence posts, wire or other loads some distances. They must be strong enough to lift, carry and stack 50 pound bags of salt and mineral. Ranch work often entails repetitive lifting, stooping and bending. and sometimes running, ducking and dodging.
- Basic spreadsheet skills
- Any applicant without basic cooking and housekeeping skills can expect to be taught and will definitely be expected to apply such skills.
What will an apprentice do at Seacross?
This is a list of typical routine seasonal ranch work and certainly does not define or anticipate all possible or probable tasks. Planning, scheduling, “working in the business” meetings (typically weekly), longer-term planning “working on the business” meetings (monthly), regular program and evaluation and adjustment meetings occur routinely. There are other things not mentioned above going on year-around like ordering and picking up supplies, paying bills, calculating budgets, horse care, stock dog care, seasonal yard work. Many other things pop up without warning.
Spring: Spring comes as soon as the cattle can go back on pasture, although feeding usually continues during some part of the season. It is the season for calving. Tasks include:
- calving, including assisted calving
- cattle and calf health checks and treatment as needed
- tagging calves
- bottle-calf management
- pairing out
- re-initiation of pasture moves
- electric cross fencing on a large scale
- fence maintenance and repair
- branding with the neighbors and branding our own (including planning and serving meals)
- weekly tactical planning meetings
- spot spraying of herbicides, mainly to control burdock and thistle
- distributing salt and mineral to cattle
Summer: Summer begins after branding in mid-June. Activities include:
- pasture preparation (fencing and water) for summer grazing program, including considerable electric cross-fencing
- gathering and herd movement based on forage-available decisions
- bull testing for trichomoniasis and fertility
- herd moves – we shoot for adjacent moves
- setting up portable water systems
- equipment maintenance and repair
- irrigation system operations
- continued spot spray of herbicides
- bush-hogging for pasture improvement and weed mowing
- cattle and calf health checks and treatment as necessary (usually with pneumatic rifle)
- bull distribution management
- hay bale retrieval and stacking
- heifer AI program
- helping neighbors
- riding for strays and returning them to their proper place
- range condition monitoring
- brush clearing, creek bank stabilization, coulee crossings repair and maintenance
- distribution of salt and minerals
- Weekly strategic and tactical planning meetings
Fall: As the grass cures out and the calves start to mature, fall is considered to have begun. Fall lasts until after weaning is completed. Fall implies continuation of all summer work, with the addition of:
- galvanized electric fence construction to replace some poly wire fences
- pulling bulls from the pairs
- distribution of salt and mineral
- more cattle moves
- preg check bred heifers
- shipping open heifers
- finding and bring in strays
- building and grounds work like repairs to corrals and buildings and removal of old fence
- helping neighbors gather, precondition, preg check, and ship
- our preconditioning
- preparation of weaning infrastructure
- post weaning calf and all herds health management
- preg check cows
- culling and shipping culls
- redistribution of herds to late fall/early winter pastures
- preparation of equipment and facilities for winter operations
Fall may include shipping weaned market calves. Fall ends when the herds are established in their wintering areas. At that time, we:
- set up winter water system
- inventory and quality test the hay
- calculate winter feeding rations
- strategy and tactics meetings
Randall and Mickey: Neither Randall nor Mickey grew up on a farm or ranch. Whatever knowledge and skills we have at present have been acquired through education and experience. We think that this circumstance makes us particularly appropriate to train an apprentice.
We both attended college and got degrees in biological science and then each obtained Masters’ degrees; Randall in Range Ecology at Utah State, Mickey in Plant Ecology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Randall went on to do PhD work in animal and plant communities ecology at Utah State, and Mickey went on to complete a PhD in Range Science at Colorado State.
Following his studies, Randall spent five years working as a wildlife and range biologist for Utah State. He lived and worked in a rural area, and worked a lot with ranchers, which is where and when his interest in ranching began. Later, both he and Mickey entered professional careers in mined land reclamation, environmental engineering, and permitting working Gillette, Wyoming, eventually extending to South America, Spain, and México.
After meeting in 1981, Randall and Mickey continued their off-ranch careers while at the same time starting a cow-calf ranching operation in the Little Powder River country north of Gillette, Wyoming. In 1993, 94, and 95 we added a stocker operation in cooperation with a nearby rancher, buying calves in west Texas and wintering them on wheat fields. We transitioned to buying calves in Nebraska and wintering them on cornstalks. In the spring, the calves were trucked to the Wyoming ranches and grazed on the neighbor’s and sold in the fall.
In 1996, we started another ranching operation in the Sandhills of Nebraska. By 1998 we had sold the Wyoming ranch (retaining it for some years as a stocker operation) and were working the Nebraska ranch. While in Nebraska, we ran different cattle enterprises in addition to the cow-calf pairs, including custom grazing, cow-calf-yearling, selling replacements and bulls, and taking our yearlings on through the finishing and to slaughter stage.
We ran an aggressive high stock density grazing program in Nebraska, often running the cow-calf herd on small pastures with daily and twice daily moves, making as many 135 grazing paddocks over three seasons per year. In the winter we bale-grazed and windrow-grazed, feeding hay through early calving. For the time, it was a very innovative and successful ranch. In the fall of 2014, we sold the Nebraska ranch and moved to their present operation in Montana. We have done a lot of technology transfer to Montana, but it is a very different environment, with lots of challenges.
What an apprentice will learn:
The apprentice will come away with enough familiarity and basic knowledge to operate a family-sized ranch, even as a start-up. The apprentice won’t become a whiz at ranching during their time with us, but they will have had comprehensive exposure to most aspects of ranch operation. Almost as important, they will learn what they can do well, or could learn to do well, and what they will need help on. They will learn where to go to draw on outside resources and how to operate on a shoestring when necessary. They will gain not just physical skills for operation, but intellectual skills like budgeting as well, and they will gain a feel for what to do first and then what to do next under trying and even emergency situations. The apprentice will achieve basic skills in each activity listed in the description above for spring, summer, and fall.
Start Date: Mid-April 2020
Length of Apprenticeship: 8 months
Expected work hours: 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (M-F) / usually 8:00 – 12:00 (Saturday), with one hour for lunch and most Sundays off. Randall and Mickey usually work separately or together from around 7:30 a.m to 7:30 p.m. every day, with about a two-hour break sometime mid-day. Despite these posted hours, we won’t complain if the apprentice wishes to work alongside us until the day’s work is done. On the days we help the neighbors, or when something big is in store, we usually get started around 5:30 a.m. We are fairly time-flexible, but timeliness is critical when the job is time-critical, and that flexibility will disappear under those circumstances.
Stipend: $1,000/month paid monthly. The apprentice will be put on the payroll as a W-2 employee with workers compensation insurance provided by the ranch. Administrative and working conditions will be in full compliance with local labor laws.
Housing: The house for the apprentice is a fully furnished and spacious ranch house and is quite comfortable. There is a washer and dryer.
Communications: Internet may or may not be available at the apprentice house but will be accessible at the headquarters for use during limited hours. A flip phone cell phone will be provided for use on the job.
Quivira Coalition Activities: This apprenticeship is offered through Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. The full cohort of apprentices on regenerative ranches and farms across the west will attend an April orientation, participate in supplemental education provided in partnership with Holistic Management International, and attend the annual Quivira Conference, hosted with Holistic Management International and the American Grassfed Association, in November. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.
Time off: Most Saturday afternoons and most Sundays off. The apprentice will accrue eight hours of paid time-off for every full month worked. That vacation time will need to be pre-arranged to fit the ranch schedule and approved in advance.
Visitors and Family: We would prefer a single person, but significant others will be considered case-by-case. Short visits from family are encouraged, and the apprentice house has space for such visitors.
Food: We keep frozen beef and pork in the freezer and the apprentice will be able to use what they wish. We plan one shared dinner a week at our house for; mid-day meals may also be shared.
Language: English is the primary language but se habla español aquí.
Pets: Whether or not there will be dogs, cats, or horses brought in by the apprentice will be addressed case-by-case. Most likely some will be acceptable, but this will need to be discussed beforehand.
Drugs and alcohol: There will be no smoking or vaping in the houses or buildings, nor in or around the equipment, and none within 50 feet of the bulk fuel tanks. The ranch is a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace, and none shall be in use or in personal possession of the apprentice during work hours. After work hours, these restrictions do not apply to the legal use of alcohol or legal drugs. However, possession or use of illegal substances is prohibited. No illegal activities of any kind are allowed on the ranch.
Health insurance: The ranching lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The farm carries Workman’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.
Ranch vehicles: An apprentice with no personal vehicle who has a driver’s license will be able to use a licensed and insured ranch vehicle to go into town for groceries and supplies no more than once per week. Any other use will be authorized case-by-case.
Personal vehicle: The apprentice will never be asked to use their personal vehicle for work purposes.
Laundry: The apprentice house has washer and dryer. The house has sheets and towels. The apprentice is expected to maintain a clean and orderly home environment and help with groundskeeping.
Items an apprentice should bring: Our apprentice will need to have work clothing for all kinds of weather. This should include a sturdy pair of work boots, a pair of muck boots, leather gloves for barbed wire fencing, and riding boots if they plan to ride horseback. We can help out with a small loan for work clothing and retain a small amount for the monthly check for pay back.
Living at the Seacross Ranch: The ranch is 14 miles southwest of Lodge Grass, Montana on Montana Highway 463 and about 1 ½ hours from Billings, the largest city in Montana. We are about 65 miles from Sheridan, Wyoming, a well-known small western town with a community college and lots of interesting things to see and do there.
The ranch is about 3,500 acres deeded and 3,300 acres leased. About 2 miles of Lodge Grass Creek, a significant perennial waterway, run through the ranch. There are about 600 acres of valley ground and the remaining acreage is upland mountain foothills. Much of the uplands are rugged, with many deep, steep, brushy drainage divides. Much of the place is accessible by UTV and ATV, but some areas are not. A lot of the cattle work is done from horseback, but horsemanship is not a prerequisite for the apprentice.
The ranch is in a beautiful mountain valley on the east slope of the Big Horn Mountains. The creek has some good trout fishing on the ranch. Willow Creek Reservoir offers more fishing and some canoeing nearby. World-famous Big Horn River trout fishing is only about 45 minutes drive from the ranch.
There are deer, occasional elk, bear, coyotes, grouse, turkeys, and a host of other wildlife on the ranch and the birding is good. We have really good neighbors with whom we work seasonally for brandings, preconditioning, preg check, and shipping. This is a good valley to live and work in and we think the overall experience here will provide for an apprentice to get a good start on a career in our industry. We look forward to the opportunity to help someone along the way.
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