How an internship at the MP Ranch helped an advertising art director transition to a full time career as an artist.
Cattle trails are not necessarily aimless ruminant wanderings, but rather the materialization of purpose and intentionality.
I detasseled corn for four summers growing up in Nebraska. As a thirteen-year-old kid, I walked miles of cornrows, pulling tassels I saw that had been missed by the machine puller. No matter the conditions: mud, rain, horrible humidity, scorching heat, we walked the fields from sunrise until late afternoon. The pay was good for kids my age, and the more rows we did, the more money we could make. I was miserable during so many of those days but what kept me from quitting was the relationships I made with the kids working alongside me in the field. The work became bearable. Then it even became a little fun. Soon a sense of pride developed: working hard, pushing oneself, and walking through it all with others who felt the same way. I’ve begun to feel the same pride for the Chico Basin Ranch, a kind of pride I didn’t expect.
Over the course of the summer of 2017, I tried to grapple with understanding the meaning of the ranching heritage of the West, and, given the history of irresponsible and destructive ranching practices on western rangelands, the unique ways that ambitious biodiversity conservation is able to coexist with for-profit livestock production at a large scale at Zapata.”
My arrival at the Chico was met with a hazy blue sky, land stretching for miles with a color palette that rivals a Wes Anderson film, and a donkey named Pica curiously peeking over the fence in my new front yard.
I traded one desert for another. My life packed into one pickup I left behind Nevada for Colorado. New opportunity awaited me; opportunity to learn and experience new adventures. Coming to Chico Basin to further hone my skills in a trade that has been perfected so many years before by so many that came before me. The art of working cattle while also being stewards of the land. Preserving the life we hold dear in a world the seeks to continually change. We are few and far between yet stand to lend a helping hand, a bit of advice, or a kind word in passing to all those that share in our passion. I strive to work hard and learn during my time here while enjoying the new company I have met. Being around others who wish to help a young man follow the dream he’s had since childhood makes every day a blessing.
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.
With only one month or so left of my internship here, I wanted to take a moment to write down some of the highlights of my experiences—both to share with you in the moment and for future me to fondly recall them. As I recount these experiences, I am reminded of a book shared with me at a camp I worked at last summer called I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor.
Duke Phillips could have been a “normal” rancher. Raised in northern Mexico in a second-generation ranching family, he came of age in a world where cowboys shot coyotes to protect their calves, ranches were grazed in their entirety year-round, and cattlemen were just that–men who raised cattle. The rancher-conservationist had yet to emerge. While the tide has been changing in recent years, with more and more farmers and ranchers embracing their role as land stewards, perhaps Phillips’ most radical act has been not just to join this growing group of agricultural conservationists, but, since the very beginning, to throw the doors open and invite others to observe and participate in the project for sustainable ranching.
Many of you probably think I’m completely stranded in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a few hundred buffalo and a herd of horses keeping me company. This is not entirely true—the small town of McLaughlin is but a short five miles south of the Wilder.