Ranch Diaries: Dispatch from a confab of women in agriculture

When holistic management is too land-focused, the needs of the people on the land gets lost.


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

The camper screen door is open to the warm wind. I’m at the tiny kitchen table staring out above the laptop, construction mess in the foreground, Pajarita Mountain beyond. I returned late last night from a three-day Women in Ranching gathering on the Paicines Ranch in California. My mind is recharged with collaboration and ideas, renewed just in time for the busyness that’s about to hit.

Any day now, Triangle P cows will start calving. We have a brand-new four-year lease with the Mescalero Apache Reservation, and we couldn’t be happier. Part of the contract includes making the old two-bedroom house here at Cow Camp Two a place we can move into. Sam and I are stripping it to the studs and enjoying the historic finds: the pages of the Los Angeles Times from 1947 with Lone Ranger Comics on them; a piece of 2x4 scribbled with the last window installer’s name and details. Our Gap 4 beef calves from last year just sold at the top of the market. A three-year-old sorrel mare has been added to our cavvy — Fiona is quiet and smart and sweet.

In so many ways, we have a lot to look forward to this year.

  • A talk about the importance of biodiversity in a working landscape.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Getting out and on the landscape.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Reflection.

    Lissy Donovon
  • Spotting tiny sprouts in a previously grazed field planted with no till equipment.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The group I was fortunate to be part of.

    Kristina Wolf
  • The landscape that fed me last weekend.

    Kristina Wolf
  • Workshops sessions were bisected with outdoor time, a must for outdoor-oriented women.

    Kristina Wolf
  • It was refreshing to meet more young, female ranchers and farmers.

    Laura Jean Schneider

But spending some time with 20-some women in agriculture reminded me of how I’ve been shaping my life around ranching, not ranching around my life. I love the livestock, the ability to be working in big open country. I have time to write and pursue my art, something I hadn’t realized I’d even been missing. In July, I’ll graduate with my master’s of fine art in fiction writing. Sometimes it feels that my interests are incompatible, that it’s impossible to feed my creativity, my need for social buzz, and my intellectual curiosity in a space that seems to be better habitat for beef cattle than people.

At the California gathering, I spoke with women from all sizes of operations, raising everything from vegetables to sheep to pastured pork. In this very demanding and often all-consuming way of life, I wondered aloud how they retained personal autonomy and balance without feeling that something integral was being sacrificed.

They answered. Unconventional job positions (some women had made up their own). Running their own business, and selling their product to an LLC co-owned by their spouse. Diversifying. Making short-term sacrifices (to finish school, to obtain certification, etc.), while keeping the big picture in mind. The big push on holistic management gets so land-focused that sometimes the needs of the people on the landscape get overlooked.

The time away, in verdant California, was a treat. I was so glad to return to a space that I love, and I’m even more excited about how I intend to approach the year. There is such value in community, and I’m making that a priority. Sharing knowledge is important to me, and I cannot wait to host interns who are curious about this way of life. Come hell or high water, I’m making time to make my own art, pursue a letterpress printing venture, finish a novel, put in a garden, and get on the roan colt — and ride through calves, build a new chicken coop, clean out some water tanks, work on gentling the milk cow, while pitching in to get this house ready for the construction crew. I can have meaningful life work both in ranching and other enterprises. While the direction that is going is still tenuous, I’ve decided to acknowledge and embrace my own needs instead of ignoring them, and enjoy the path to wherever that ends up.           

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