Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sharing Our Story

Spring piles on top of itself on a ranch. There are so many jobs to choose from one can get dizzy.

In the midst of it all I made a quick trip to Boise to speak to a group of biology graduate students. The class is called Science and Society and features a different speaker each week. As the semester went along I was privy to the list of presenters and noticed that they all had initials behind their name! I puzzled about what exactly I could share with the students and decided to simply tell the story of a ranch. Maybe if I told our story, I thought, the class might have a better understanding of landowners in general.  

The students are budding scientists involved in research projects of one kind or another, and so I started my talk with a bit about another scientist, Andre Voisin, a French biochemist who wrote the classic Grass Productivity in 1959. It was said of Voisin, “he realized more than most that the unknowns in science are far greater than the knowns and that simple observation of the cow at grass could teach us more about ecological relationships than the most sophisticated research yet developed.”

This idea of the cow at grass being research hits a chord with me. Mark and I have been “researching” for over twenty years, and unlike these students who are able to get rid of annoying variables and search out a clear cause and effect relationship, we do our research with the variables intact. We make stabs at cause and effect. We try to be comfortable with always more questions than answers. We keep in mind that success is measured by the health of the three legs of managing wholes - people, land and money. If one leg falters the other two follow. Real life in other words.   

I showed slides of a year on the ranch, our search for feed and water every day, the relationship between the cow and her calf, herd health and low stress stockmanship and how we strive to do our best within the many constraints we find ourselves. I told them about working with government agencies and some good and not-so-good case studies for them to ponder.

I think the students got it. What fun to hear their questions and learn a little bit about their own stories. I told them to keep their stories close because our stories keep us honest and are our best contribution to the world around us.  

I closed with a quote from Charles Dana, a journalist who lived in the 1800’s. I doubt very much he was talking about natural resource concerns, but it seems fitting. “Fight for your opinions, but do not believe that they contain the whole truth or the only truth.”

I have a vision of good ecosystem management. It is of a scientist and a rancher/farmer with heads bent together over the land in full appreciation of the knowledge they both contribute. Thanks Jen for fostering that same vision!   

one ranch story


  1. It was great having you come share your time and stories with us. Wonderful experience.


  2. awesome job talking to students, and impressive insights