Moving From City to Farm

I sit on a covered porch at 8pm on Wednesday evening, watching the sun decline and listening to the cooing Mourning Doves; it’s a peaceful time of day – the time when work is done and I can catch a breath.  My body relaxes. The dog next to me begins to pant heavily and hides, my warning that a thunderstorm is coming; the crickets are chirping, the breeze is talking. This might be the daily solitude of my backyard in Philadelphia, but today I’m writing this from South Dakota.  The dog is not my own but belongs to the Ranch and he’s filling in pretty-well for the one I left at home. I can watch the same nationally-televised newscast or scan the same standardized Dairy Queen menu, but these people are not the people of my melting-pot American experience.  I haven’t traveled overseas, but I might as well have because I’ve stepped into a foreign culture.

Around the dinner table, we don’t talk about the hassle of detouring around the current street closures, the latest movies or Phillies stats.  These Dakotans use words that I know when digested individually, but when used in combination, stretch my mind in new ways. Words like, “regenerative agriculture,” “soil health,” or “carbon sequestration.”  How about a conversation on “Riparian-area recovery?” “High-density stocking?” Or a “right-side-up prairie?” In my head, I transfer knowledge to try and create a twinkling of meaning; inevitably, I need help understanding.

There are a few holistic ideas that I’ve learned in my first weeks here at Rock Hills Ranch that start to help others fold into place.  One thing I learn is that the Great Plains is as endangered a landscape as the Rainforest. Another thing I learn is that agricultural and livestock farming practices don’t need to work in opposition to the health of these softly, rolling landscapes that were shaped millions of years ago by the glaciers.  

One more big idea at Rock Hills Ranch is “legacy.”  Legacy has a multitude of meanings, like a tree with many limbs.  Stewardship of land is a legacy – using it while also restoring the natural prairie, working in rhythm with the landscape, keeping in mind all the wildlife of the region and not just the beef.  Creating happiness within the family through all the hard work is also part of the vision around legacy. Stabilizing a financial future is also part of it. Garnet said to me, “When someone here gets married, they just don’t marry the man, instead they marry the land.”  The Permans are 4th generation farmers and the future two generations are here right now.  So, “The Land” is a full-partner in every aspect of life; as if it has an endowed faculty chair in the fanciest Boardroom in the best college.  

I am the 6th Ranch-Life intern at RHR – a high school teacher from the metropolis.  I read somewhere that South Dakota has 0.2 people occupying an acre; I believe that Philly probably has a thousand.  I am not young, but I am trying to digest and understand a way of life that I’ve never encountered before beyond the latest cowboy movie.  As I feel more confident in my understanding on the nexus of beef-farming practices and prairie sustainability, I will write more about it.  I’ll also write more about the animals of the farm and the feeling that permeates the Ranch of being a modern-day pioneer. But for now, this is a way-of-life that can only be understood by walking through it.

– Felicia Rosen

 

From East to the West

After a little over 1200 miles from New York my summer adventure has begun.  Hi folks my name is Matt Kelley and I am the 2018 summer intern for Rock Hills Ranch.  I come from a small town in New York called Cobleskill, granted it’s not nearly as small as the towns around here.  I am one of three boys in my family, and my mom reminds us every day she always wanted at least one girl.  My family owns and operates a hardware store in our hometown, but it is not your average hardware store.  Along with the hardware side of things we also have a full service lumber yard, a feed mill, rental business and sell farm and ranch equipment as well as our own meat products all under the same roof.  Another business that fills the rest of our time is the farm.  We raise registered Alpine dairy goats and also have a herd of registered Angus cows.  Growing up I had always been a part of 4-H and showing animals across the state and country.  Once I got older I really focused on the cattle side of our farm.  I worked with my animals endlessly and always looked for ways to improve our genetics and chances of winning in the show ring.  This past May, I graduated from Penn State University with a bachelors in Animal Science.  I had always planned to move back and work in my parents business with them and one day hopefully pry my father’s hands off of the reigns and run it myself.  I decided that before I do that I should get other experiences working for different managers other than my father.  So I decided to apply for this ranch internship, since I had always wanted to move West and get an inside look of how cattle country really operates.  I’ve been here for a few weeks now and have tried to hit the ground running.  This experience has been all that I had hoped.  The terrain here in the Midwest is stunning and you can never have a bad day when your office is on the four-wheeler checking cows.  The Perman’s have welcomed me very graciously to their ranch and are a great family to work for and get along with.  The four kids are a breath of fresh air after a hot day of working on the ranch.  Luke has taken the time to make sure I understand why we’re doing certain tasks.  We also have very engaging conversations and Luke always has a different way of thinking about things than I do and encourages me to think outside of the box.  All in all the internship has been a great success and I am looking forward to the rest of my summer here at Rock Hills Ranch.

Treating problems, not symptoms

I read an advertisement recently for a herbicide for controlling weeds in a pasture.  It touted the increased grass production to be gained by using the herbicide on your pastures, and presented the data to back it up.

I don’t doubt their findings, but I disagree with the conclusion.

First, no mention was made of any other management changes.  The question needs to be asked, “why were there weeds to begin with?”  Perhaps the management that resulted in the weed invasion ought to be changed first.  Perhaps the product being advertised could be of some temporary assistance, but in the long run a change of management is the only cure.

Second, what are weeds anyway?  Did anyone tell the livestock they are weeds?  Might there be some lemonade potential in them there lemons?  This is something that goes through my mind frequently when I see “less desirable” plants.   Goats and sheep are well-known for having a different diet than cattle – perhaps adding a different type of livestock could turn the weed into an asset.  If that doesn’t sound appealing, Kathy Voth has a training program for teaching your cattle to eat all sorts of stuff.   We’ve given it a try with some success.

We’re not completely against using herbicides around our place.  In fact, we have used the actual product in the advertisement, in specific places and for specific reasons.  However, we understand quite well there are other tools we can use to reduce or eliminate the need to reach for the jug.

Now, if I could just find someone to run a goat enterprise for me….