As I enter the last two weeks of my stay here at Rock Hills Ranch, I can’t help but look back on all that I have learned from the Perman family. It has been a truly unique and special summer for me and I would be lying if I said that it has been anything short of life changing. While RHR is far from a school of hard knocks, it has afforded me the opportunity to better myself not only as a cattleman, student, and employee but also as an individual through mistakes, long hours, hard work, and Lyle’s lectures of course. If RHR was an institution for personal development, the diploma it bestows would be one of the most coveted and respected around the nation and perhaps the world. It pains me that only a few short days stand between me and a few lonely plane rides back to the place I call home. However, it helps me to think that my leaving will provide an opening for future interns to partake in this once in a lifetime opportunity that I have grown so fond of. It is this thought process that has led me to the topic of my last blog post. Without further adieu, I give you (in no particular order): 5 Pieces of Advice for Future RHR Interns. Enjoy!
Greetings from the 100th Meridian! I am overjoyed to inform you that I have now survived the first six weeks of the Rock Hills Ranch 2017 Summer Internship. “Survived” might sound like peculiarly strange diction to use while describing your dream internship. However, when Lyle found out I was attending military college in the fall, he promised me that he would make military school seem easy. Mornings begin with Lyle’s piercing wake-up whistle and holler at 6 a.m. sharp. At this time I chug 2 cups of black room-temp coffee and begin the morning PT session which consists of sit-ups, pull-ups, and a sub-25 minute 5k run. Occasionally, my routine PT session is accompanied by an additional hour-long workout designed and enforced by the ranch’s new one-month intern, Alexi Galber, who happens to be a former Israeli Defense Force soldier who trained to be a drill instructor. Lucky me, right? With this in mind, I can assure you that many mornings by the time I report to Luke for work at 8 a.m., survival is largely on my mind.
Things are not all bad here on the Northern Great Plains though. If you overlook the ongoing six-month drought, fences are being built, hay is being made, and cattle are being worked. There is no doubt that June has historically been, and continues to be, a busy time for the nation’s cattle producers. Here at Rock Hills Ranch, the already slam-packed month began with a visit from several donors, staffers, and scientists from the World Wildlife Fund. The group came on an overnight visit to the ranch to learn more about the role that ranchers play in the prairie ecosystem. There is a lot to consider and learn when talking about grassland conservation and Rock Hills Ranch is the perfect place to start.
One of the reasons that this internship stood out among the panoply of ranch internships I applied for was the value that Rock Hills Ranch placed on the prairie ecosystem. From day one of my time here, I have experienced so much about the role that ranchers play in wildlife conservation. In a nutshell, I have learned that the importance of grasses to both the prairie ecosystem and also to the environment as a whole.
Grasslands make up one of the world’s largest sources of carbon sequestration (the process of taking carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis). Sure, monoculture suburban horticulture and ag crops will also take carbon out of the atmosphere. However, if you consider the carbon cost of producing each of the stands (think fuel and fertilizer), the grasses have a much more beneficial impact on the atmospheric carbon levels because they require considerably less mechanical and chemical management. Grasses on prairie lands also contribute to water quality. Grass stands greatly contribute to soil health through increasing soil structure and infiltration (the ability of the soil to collect and hold water and nutrients) as well as reduce erosion. This reduces the loss of nutrients (mainly P & K) through runoff and leaching which ultimately prevents eutrophication in our water systems. Last, but not least, grasslands are home to bobolinks, meadowlarks, pheasants, and hundreds of other bird species that don’t nest in monoculture crops. Lyle says, “No cows, no grass, no birds.” If there is a reduction in the number of head of cattle, we lose prairie. That means we also lose air and water quality, as well as the wildlife that makes this region so special. The bottom line is that, contrary to popular belief, cows ARE good for the ecosystem of the Great Plains because they keep grasslands intact. So the next time you’re feeling environmentally conscious when you’re ordering food, think of the Northern Great Plains and get a burger.
Tuesday, May 16 2017, It was my first full day of work as the new intern here at Rock Hills Ranch. Gray puffy clouds filled the vast prairie sky as I waited to witness the hidden South Dakota sunset for the second time. The bitter 40 degree winds bit at my shivering skin while it rolled across the green hills of the pasture. My head was hung. I stared at the ground watching my faithful cowboy boots take each step across the dark clay soil. Perhaps, the only things that reminded me of my Virginia home were the black-hided cattle tending to their new spring-born calves. Luke and I were conversing as we walked toward the newest addition to the ranch with intentions of tagging its ear. The conversation died in a split instant, along with any sense of security I had previously possessed, when my ears intercepted an alarming noise. “WOAH!!!,” Luke shouted. Without delay, my eyes rose from the fertile ground to see cow Y170 charging right at us. I quickly ran for my life as I sought the shelter of the Honda Pioneer. Terrorized and afraid, I hid behind the ATV. Luke however, had a much different reaction. After the initial fleeing, he handled the situation with experience and composure. The mother was calmed, the calf tagged, and the day went on. On the way back to the barn, I found new insight into American history as I thought, “No wonder France sold this land to Jefferson for so cheap. The weather is frigid, the wind never rests, and even the cattle are mean.” What a welcome to the West.
My name is Tucker Wyatt. I am a 19 year old full-time college student from the college town of Harrisonburg, Virginia. I enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking, the MLB, the NFL, and writing country music with my best friend, Megan (yes, she is a guitar). I am the second oldest of six kids; Anna (20), myself (19), Jane (17), Lizzy (13), Kitty (11), and Bridget (7). No, your eyes are not deceiving you. I am the only boy with five sisters. Even our family dog is a female. My father, Bill, is the Director of Communications and University Spokesperson for James Madison University (Go Dukes!) and my mother Carey is a stay-at-home mom. We’re a loud and rowdy crew and I miss them already. Just a few short weeks ago, I graduated with my Associate’s Degree from Virginia Tech in Applied Agricultural Management with a concentration in Agribusiness. (LET’S GO, HOKIES!) After my time here at Rock Hills, I will be pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Economics as a cadet at Virginia Military Institute. Upon my graduation from VMI, I aim to pursue my juris doctor in the hopes of one day getting involved with ag law and policy.
I spent the early years of my childhood in Glen Burnie, Maryland which is a suburb just south of Baltimore. So how does a kid from the big city end up working cattle on a ranch in South Dakota? Well, in short, he found his passion. Agriculture. As you might imagine, my pursuit of finding my place in the agricultural industry is quite different than most. When I first moved down to Rockingham County, two days after my 10th birthday, I was not a fan of the rural character of the “friendly city.” Slowly but surely however, thanks to the influence of my dearest friends, I found myself adopting more Virginian habits such as hunting, fishing, and listening to country music. By the time I got to Harrisonburg High School I was a natural want-to-be country boy who was only concerned at the time with a girlfriend, Toyota pickup truck, and playing baseball and football. During my junior year in the Governor’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Academy, my Honors Geoscience instructor told me that she knew of a job where I could make $40 dollars for each 2-hour shift I worked. With gas prices around $3.00 per gallon, I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the shifts would consist of milking cows or even that each shift started at either 3 am or 3 pm. While the initial adjustment to the job was rough to say the least, over time I began to take pride in playing my role in providing our region with nutritious dairy products. During the next several months, I became fascinated with the question, “How do so many people get fed by so few farmers and ranchers?” That very question led me to pursue my degree in agriculture from Virginia Tech. During my time there, I not only pursued ag in the classroom but also in extra curriculars. I pledged Alpha Zeta which is a professional honors fraternity for students studying agriculture and natural resources as well as the Collegiate Beef Leadership Council of Virginia Tech. I have learned so much through these organizations and the college itself and I am proud to call myself an advocate for our industry.
But why a ranch internship in South Dakota? Well, during my studies, I have developed a particular interest in beef cattle. Not only am I infatuated with a well-marbled steak and cowboy culture, but I really appreciate that the beef industry has remained largely in the hands of family operations compared to a world of other ag industries that seems to be gravitating toward consolidation and large corporate ownership. When I was applying for summer internships, I was hoping that I would find one that would help me gain valuable insight and knowledge that would assist me in becoming a better advocate for the industry and its operators as I pursue my ambitions of public policy and ag law. Although I have only been here for a short time, there is no doubt in my mind that I am in the right place. The Perman family is not only a proactive member and advocate of the beef industry but they are fountains of knowledge concerning production, marketing, and current issues facing the beef community. I have learned so much already and look forward to working for some of the best in the business this summer. Thanks for taking the time to read my first post and I look forward to keeping you posted as the summer goes on!