Lisa Schmidt’s daughter, Abby, enjoys a few minutes of ranch relaxation, with no thought of dominion over cattle, dogs or even kittens.

Pondering Branding

The other day, I received a thank you note that made me laugh out loud. 

A group of Presby-terians who had read a book about bible verses that direct how we live on this earth came to the ranch for a tour.

A sow grizzly with two cubs had been spotted the day before so I offered advice if we spotted a bear: 

“All I have to do is run faster than one of you. I think I can be at least that fast so I’ll meet you all at the house.”

I was just kidding. 

Sort of. 

Our best defense was the conversation we shared so the sow knew we were around. 

As we walked down from the sheepherders’ monument, we talked about grass, water, climate change and Alistair Graham sitting on my shoulder. 

We looked at teepee rings, the only subdivisions ever built that reverted back to nature. 

We talked about brilliant decisions made by the Grahams when they settled here and how those decisions are still evident. Where they placed the house, where they dug the reservoir, how the irrigation ditch flows – all of those decisions make my life easier every day. 

We looked at a badger mound and talked about ecological succession – how nature hates a vacuum so plants grow on bare ground and then protect others. 

We talked about facing storms, taking care of livestock as well as I can and cleaning up the mess afterward. 

The thank you note said the guest appreciated my attitude of working with the land instead of asserting dominion over the land. 

I laughed out loud. 

Obviously, she had never felt ice pelt her cheeks as she stumbled blindly through snow drifts, hoping to find her sheep. 

She had never felt the tractor sink into mud so sticky that the hydraulic loader could not lift the tractor out. 

She had never stepped into a warm, sunny dawn, only to discover slaughtered sheep left gutted by a roaming grizzly. 

A few days later, another guest wanted to talk about ranching. 

I thought about what to say as I entertained myself with the true romance of ranching – clipping houndstongue and patching a leaky concrete water tank. 

He had read some books about the necessary fundamentals -- stocking rate, calving seasons and avoiding debt, but he wanted to know how to ranch.

I carried my .44 pistol as grizzly defense again, but I didn’t tell him about digging sheep out of snow drifts during a blizzard. 

Might as well let a man down slowly. 

I talked to him about how I decide when to put the bulls in with the cows – June 15 – and when to be sure to take the rams away from the ewes – July 10. 

I pointed out how to encourage grass species that provide more leaves and how to improve soil organic matter.

I told him every ranch is different, but I need $750 from every animal unit, every year. 

I watched him furrow his brows when I talked about the heifer who had a calf on a nice, flat, open spot last spring. I watched her lick the calf dry and watched his wobbly first steps. Two hours later, the temperature had warmed up, snow melted and an ice jam backed up the creek to drown the calf. 

His response was the ice jam wasn’t the heifer’s fault so she should have another chance next year. 

Not on this ranch.

I watched his eyes glaze over when I explained that nobody has all the answers so we all ranch to fit our land. 

I showed him to his truck and waved. 

Then I returned to doing the best I can, still laughing at the ridiculous concept of dominion over Nature, and still hoping I might make Alistair Graham smile once in a while. 

Lisa Schmidt raises grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. She can be reached at L.Schmidt@a-land-of-grass-ranch.com.

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