Colin Boggess, BR and Horse Creek Ranches, Newell, South Dakota
I first became interested in “Holistic Management” upon hearing Ian Mitchell-Innes speak at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference back in February 2010. However, I have been living within the general paradigm and philosophical framework of holism and interconnectedness for much longer, since the age of 17. But after hearing Ian speak, I decided that I wanted to work with my friends at Mountain Run Farm, a 1000 acre ranch practicing Holistic Management in my home county of Bedford, Virginia. While there, I assisted Ranch Manager Ben Coleman with the High-Density “Mob Grazing” of his 400-head cattle operation. We moved the herd 1-2 times/day, with pasture sizes averaging around 4-5 acres (approximately 80,000-120,000 lbs. of animal per acre). I also co-managed Mountain Run’s pastured poultry operation of 1200 meat chickens, 100 turkeys, and 60+ laying hens. In my free time, I grew a garden, hand-milked the Coleman’s family Jersey cow, got up firewood, planted trees, and tended to the pigs.
I had a fantastic year at Mountain Run Farm, but after hearing Fred Provenza speak at a forage and grasslands conference in February, I decided that I wanted to be part of a much larger project. I researched dozens of ranching opportunities but settled on the Savory Institute upon reading Jim Howell’s book and exploring the Savory Institute website. And I sure am glad that I did! The potential of the Grasslands project to change the world simply astounds me, and I cannot think of any other opportunity that would better fulfill my need to both pursue my passion and offer valuable service to the world. I am truly honored.
Just to communicate the general spirit with which I pursued this position with Grasslands, here’s an excerpt from my response (March 5) to Jim’s email describing the internship:
Let me start out by saying that you have not scared me off. In fact, I am even more excited and intrigued than I was before. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that I have been hungering for and dreaming about. That “slowly building fire in your gut” that you alluded to perfectly epitomizes the way I feel. I have been ruminating on dozens of potential next steps throughout these winter months, but none resonate so deeply and on so many levels as this one. I want so much to work with and learn from the Savory Institute, and I am willing to go anywhere and do anything for that opportunity. I know it’s not Virginia – I know it will be neither easy nor comfortable. Quite frankly, that only makes this internship even more appealing to me, for I know that it is under the toughest, most testing conditions that I grow the most and feel the closest to myself and my purpose. I’m ready to step outside of my comfort zone. I’m ready to be challenged. I want to stretch until it hurts.
The biggest ecological challenge that I’ve faced here at the BR Ranch is the trampling of our forage, the inevitable result of saturated soil and pacing yearlings. Yearlings always tend to pace incessantly, but this behavior is exacerbated in the event of high rainfall, high winds, or any other environmental stressor. Although this trampling effect has compromised both the quality and quantity of this year’s available forage, it will undoubtedly have immense long-term benefits, due to the sheer amount of organic matter – and kinetic energy!! – that was incorporated into the soil.
Fortunately, BR’s biggest social challenge doesn’t involve our custom grazing clients, or our neighbors, or even the BLM. It does, however, involve me. While I believe in the Grasslands project and its unprecedented potential to change the world, I struggle every day with the nature of my involvement. I DO want to live and work on the land – to serve the earth-- but I also want to live and work amongst people – to serve my human community. It is within this context that I truly come alive and into alignment with my passion, my gifts, and my purpose.
These are simply the BR’s two BIGGEST challenges. There are, however, innumerable other challenges: extreme weather, long hours, hazardous work conditions, All Terrain Vehicle issues, quantity and functionality of fencing materials, etc.
Although few in number, my connections with our neighbors have been fun and good-hearted. I recount one of these experiences (with neighbor Gary Donahay) in a blog posting titled “A Social Sunday.” Another good connection was with Will Lindsey, my neighbor just across the county road. Will, 24 years-old, is the sole manager of his family’s 50,000 acre ranch; he assumed this daunting responsibility following his father’s sudden death in 2009 of a heart attack. Will is currently continuing the “traditional” practice of set-stocking, but he certainly understood and resonated with the ideas of Holistic Management that I shared with him. He even commented that he’d like to try splitting up one of his big pastures this summer.
Just to give you a better idea of who I am and what I’m passionate about, here’s a list of some of my interests: Holistic Land Management, Permaculture Design, Transition Towns, Indigenous Skills & Lifeways, Nature Observation, Ethnobotany, Wildcrafting, Herbalism, Foraging Wild Plants, Seed Saving, Cooking, Nutrition, Animal Husbandry, Hand-Milking, Line Breeding, Low-Stress Livestock Handling, Value-added Animal Products, Natural Building, Homesteading, Ecovillages, Appropriate Technology, Fermentation, Brewing, Fungi Cultivation, Horsemanship, Animal Power, Nonviolent Communication, Consensus Decision Making, Inter-Disciplinary Dialogue, Community Organizing, Public Networking, etc.
And here are some quotes that I carry inside always:
The Grasslands Ranchers Share Their Stories