Ranch Diaries: How to apply holistic livestock management to life goals

Abiding by shared values helps our quality of life.


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.

When many people hear about holistic management, they envision pastures with electric fences radiating out like spokes of a wheel and paddocks packed so full of cows that their tails hang over the fences. But that’s just one misguided application of a broader philosophy. I was first introduced to the term holistic management on the Lazy E-L Ranch, in Roscoe, Montana, when I was 18. Someone handed me a huge book with a green cover and advised that I read it. I tried, I really did. Then I floundered in the details, and gave up.

It wasn’t until I graduated college at the age of 27 that a summer on the San Juan Ranch with George Whitten and Julie Sullivan near Saguache, Colorado, helped de-mystify the term. George was an early implementer of holistic planned grazing and had experience explaining the fundamentals of Allan Savory’s philosophy. It was about managing the parts with regard to the whole, and in keeping with our own individual Holisticgoals (now called holistic context). That made sense, but it was big picture thinking — not my strong suit.

  • Caking bulls.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Meet Trump, one of our new holstein nurse calves.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Our new nurse-milk cow, Tinnie, with her second charge, Ennis.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sam rides Hoot and leads Clementine, a three-year old colt.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sam's view while shoeing.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The view trotting home after checking fence.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • This lovely tea makes the author's morning writing time most anticipated.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Triangle P cows digging into a protein supplement block.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Using the dogs to move a bunch of cows.

    Laura Jean Schneider

The big book by Savory describes a holistic philosophy and a decision-making framework, and their specific application to rangeland grazing practices and ranch-based financial planning. The better I understood it, the more I realized the same decision-making process could be applied to my personal life. I had little direction after finishing college, and although I’d spent years on my own, that time had been fraught with experiences I wasn’t anxious to repeat: living on someone’s couch for two months, digging into the seats of my car for change to buy ramen, medical debt, and poor financial management.

So I made my Holisticgoal. I listed the quality of life I wanted, my available resources to produce that life, and the resources I would need to rely on in the future. This seemed good. It seemed doable and easy. Then I got married. Suddenly it was not just my Holisticgoal anymore. There were a spouse’s goals to combine with mine. It took us some time but Sam and I finally created a goal that reflected what we wanted to do together in the world. 

Quality of life

  • Our work is the life we love.
  • We live and work on rangelands, close to mountains, keeping horseback daily among good dogs, friends and family.

Forms of production

  • We exercise prudent financial planning.
  • We manage livestock to restore healthy ecosystem processes on wild lands.
  • We profit from livestock and complementary enterprises.
  • We maintain self-sufficient living practices to meet our needs for food and energy.
  • We profit from art and writing.
  • We raise and train good horses as willing, capable and trustworthy partners.
  • We are a resilient, supportive family, happy on the ranch and in the world.
  • We create the challenges and opportunities that keep us alive, exploring and learning.

Future resource base

  • We keep and nurture cultural traditions.
  • We maintain places in our operation for friends and family, each involved as much as any one wants.
  • We cultivate and maintain friendships.
  • We support an inclusive community of neighbors near and far, offering good help and seeking new challenges.
  • We take time to travel and explore our surroundings.
  • We restore rangeland to a healthy, functional state, maintaining its productivity for profit and natural beauty.

In 2013, we chose to leave Sam’s secure management position because it didn’t allow us to achieve our goal of profiting from our own livestock. We joined Triangle P a year later after looking at our goal again and asking, did such a venture fit our needs? We decided it did. Before joining Triangle P, we tested other opportunities against our goal, leading us to decline ranch management jobs in Hawaii, Montana, and New Mexico, among other places.

I wish such a template had been around when I was struggling to find order in my own life. It’s my hope that sharing this personal glimpse into our joint decision making process will encourage other young people to take the risk to think and dream big, and make goals of their own.            

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