Ranching is a trade that is deeply rooted in history and tradition as well as being on the forefront of progress and innovation. It is a trade that can be photographed 50 years apart with little to no noticeable change. A “timeless trade” not just stylistically or aesthetically, but in that its practices, rooted in caring for the land and providing for the people, are as relevant now as they were 100 years ago.
I was first introduced to the term “self-selection” in a barefoot trimming clinic in Australia about a year ago. The couple that were hosting the clinic, a trimmer and a vet, were starting a holistic rehab center in New South Wales in which one of the main focus points would be a Paddock-Paradise-style track system with a wide variety of planted herbs to provide the natural process of self-selection to their rehab horses. The thought behind this being that in the wild, horses (and other grazing animals) will seek out and choose to eat specific plants with medicinal properties to benefit their unique health, a process that most domestic horses don’t have access to, and which most horse owners compensate for by feeding an excess of supplements that blanket a wide variety of needs as a “cover all the bases” strategy.
I’m a big fan of chaos. I love trying to make sense of things that are halfway out of control. It is the engine that propels life forward, and the best example of chaos in ranching are our brandings.
Calves are hitting the ground like no body’s business. Yesterday evening as I was checking heifers, a very attentive mother stood looking very concerned over her calf just born, still wet calf and I realized why when I saw a coyote sitting not 100 feet from her. Coyotes are blamed for high calf attrition rates by most, but in fact are scavengers. Naturally, they will take advantage of an opportunity to chew on a live calf, but normally they are after scraps of afterbirth, a calf that did not make it, cake left over from the feeding ground. He didn’t seem to be concerned about me as I scooted off to check the rest of the pasture.
Nick Baefsky started an apprenticeship on Chico Basin Ranch six years ago, in the fall of 2012. Today he and his wife Amy, another Ranchlands apprenticeship graduate, manage a ranch in New Mexico with the help of three young interns and apprentices. They fix old generators, prop up fences, uncover and splice lines of ancient poly pipe. They gather big brushy pastures by waiting until late in the day when the cows come into water. They keep lists of the vehicles, generators and equipment that needs to be repaired, the pastures that need to be prepared for cattle, the pipeline leaks that need to be fixed. They keep precipitation records and grazing charts that they use to estimate how they’ll move the cattle herds across the ranch through the year.
This spring feels like it’s pregnant. As if it is about to burst out unchecked as a living being.