A New Sustainable Way of Ranching?


When one thinks about cattle ranching, many tend to think of cowboys hollering on horses with ropes at the ready to herd any unruly cows back to the herd. Maybe that is how it’s done on some cattle ranches, but not on the Oxbow Cattle Ranch, which is a ranch that I had the privilege of visiting during my time at the PEAS Farm. Bart (the mastermind behind the operations) is a humble, intelligent and caring man who has a Wildlife Biology degree, that he chose to put towards raising cattle in a sustainable and low stress way. I chose to write about this man and his ranch because I found his ways of cattle raising so incredibly fascinating that I had to talk about it!

Bart believes that raising cattle needs to be done with integrity for the cows, as well as the land. First of all, he utilizes wildlife friendly fence to aid wild animals in movement across the land. The fence essentially has two barbed wire lines in the center, and just smooth wire on the top and bottom, that can be connected to the center two barbed wires to make it wildlife friendly. The cows can’t get out of the fence and the wildlife can move through with less chances of injuring themselves. It really is a brilliant fence to use in a place such as Montana.


Bart is the man on the left, installing the wildlife friendly fences on his property. 

He also does intensive rotations of his cows on his land, so that the cows will not overgraze the areas that they are in. If the cows are in the space for the right amount of time they will eat enough, but not down to the roots, which leads to stress on plants and less vegetation the next year. While in that space for the set amount of time the cows hooves will churn the earth and return organic matter to the soil (through their feces and left behind loose grasses), which leads to a richer soil. The idea is that the vegetation will grow back in more volume the next year, all the while reducing invasive weeds (knapweed). He showed us an example of these, and it was amazing to see the results of sustainable grazing rotations in the works.

The thing that I found to be the most amazing was how he treats his cows. Bart employs a low stress method of herding his cows. He never yells at them, nor slaps or uses a shock rod to get them moving. He explained a way of ‘putting pressure’ on the cows by just taking steps or moving your body in the right way to get them to move in the way that is needed. It was all very technical, and I think that I would have to see it in action to truly understand how it is done. I was so intrigued by this, because I have never heard of any methods life this before.

I was just so impressed with how much time and effort he put into thinking about how to raise these cows. Many people don’t realize that animals can feel things that humans do, and I respect Bart for realizing this and using methods that are low stress on these animals that are living and ultimately dying for our consumption.

The Secret to Happiness

Snuggly Bugs

I don’t think that I have ever been quite as happy as I am this summer working at the PEAS farm, living a simple but fulfilling life. I ate great food, worked in a beautiful place, had meaningful conversations with people who sincerely care about what is going on in the world, and I was finally in a place where I think I belonged. I think that usually I was always looking for something more, yet I never quite knew what it was I am looking for. But, this summer I realized what I have been needing to be truly happy.

My fellow workers and even instructors at the farm had many conversations about what it takes to live a fulfilling and joyful life. We narrowed it down to a few different components; a person needs to have meaningful conversations with people, to exercise daily in some form or another, as well as seeing the rewards from your hard work.

Humans are not solitary creatures; we crave human interaction. To be happy, people instinctively need other people in their lives. We cannot be truly happy unless the people we have in our lives mean something to us; we have to care about the people we have in our lives to live a fulfilling life. We need meaningful conversations with these people we care about, because we cannot be happy with small talk that essentially means nothing.

Another extremely thing humans need in life to be content is daily exercise. This doesn’t mean that we all need to hit the gym every day, but we definitely need to be doing something active. The activity that I experienced at the farm was just the routine farming: weeding, planting, walking, and lifting heavy objects. Any kind of activity—such as hiking, walking or biking to work, or playing a fun game of basketball with friends—can help people to live a more fulfilled life.

The last component of happiness that we discussed at the farm was seeing the rewards of your work. I experienced this in the way of planting small crops at the beginning of the summer, watching them slowly grow into large and lush plants, and then eating the fruits of my (and my peers) labor. Simply eating the food that we grew, somehow made it all taste better than I could have ever believed.

You know you’re happy when you see bugs snuggled in the flowers and you wish that you could capture that moment forever. Happiness comes in all shapes and forms, but this summer, I connected with people, plants and the land, and that is all I could ever ask for.

Local Farming Unveiled

Until this summer, I had never truly thought about where all of my food comes from. Although, I had thought about where meat comes from and how terrible the commercial industry is for those animals that are raised for our consumption. I have never realized how ultimately disconnected I–as well as many other people are–was from my food sources. What I didn’t realize before was that the commercial produce industry is about as bad to the land as the commercial meat industry is to both the land and animals. The majority of the commercial produce industry supports mono-cultures of food and therefore supports the use of herbicides and pesticides, which in turn ruins the soil and pollutes rivers and streams. People are so disconnected from this reality because the majority of people just buy their food from the grocery store and don’t pay attention to where it is coming from and how it is produced.

Working this summer at the ten acre organic PEAS Farm up the Rattlesnake, I learned just how large of a disconnect there is between people and their food in the modern world. Because of my time working at the farm, I now try to make more responsible choices with where I purchase my food from. I have realized that I want a life filled with good, real food, that is produced from local growers who work hard to produce this beautiful and delicious food. After meeting many of these local growers around the state of Montana, I recognized their integrity and their love of the land. These people work so hard to produce real food for people all around Montana, all the while making sure that their practices uplift the land rather than tearing it down. These are the farmers and ranchers who, at the farmers markets, will talk to you, tell you how they grow everything, and get about anything you need from what they produce. Fortunately, in Missoula there is a large amount of people who really do care, and this is evidenced by the crowds of people under the bridge and by the X’s in downtown Missoula on Saturday mornings during the summer. I am so fortunate to live in a place where the integrity of the land is protected, and where purchasing real local produce is a livelihood.