I recently stayed at a little cattle ranch in west Texas on a roadtrip back home to Albuquerque.
As a lifelong vegetarian, I debated for a minute about whether or not to stay there since I feel so strongly about not eating meat. But the price was right, it was close to the highway, the setting seemed really beautiful, and they allowed dogs.
So I booked it.
When I arrived at the ranch, a little past sunset, I quickly settled into the little cabin, ate some food from the road and caught an eyeful of stars before falling fast asleep.
In the morning I messaged the host to see if they could sell me some bones for my dog Luna since I realized it would be much better to get them fresh from small farmers than anywhere else.
I got a quick response saying that I was in luck and that they would be delivering me bones for free before I left!
A few hours later I was holding a bag full of bones and trying to keep Luna at bay, while chatting with the beautiful, fresh faced daughter of the woman who ran the ranch. To my surprise, she informed me that she was a vegetarian too, but that she was working the ranch since it was the family business. She told me stories of working in the local slaughter house where their cows were “processed” and that though she would never work that kind of job again, she was glad she had done it. I couldn’t believe that someone like her could have worked a job like that. “It was easy work” she said, “just wrapping.” She had been the only female, and said that the men who worked there would have done anything to help her.
She proceeded to tell me about how her and her mother were utilizing the principles of regenerative agriculture on their ranch. I told her about how I’d been working at a regenerative farm in southern Oregon over the summer and was surprised to learn that regenerative ag was possible on a cattle ranch in the middle of the west Texas desert.
“There’s way more life under the soil than above it” she stated. “You see that land over there?” And pointed to a field in the distance. “That land hasn't had cows on it in seven years. See the way the grass is dying and patchy? The land actually needs the animals to stay fertile,” and told me more about the fine balance between overgrazing, and undergrazing.
She also told me about the changes they had made to the types of food they fed their cattle. Like many local ranchers, they had been feeding the cattle leftovers from the cotton fields for years.
“They love it” she said. “It’s high protein and helps keep them warm.” But soon, they started seeing problems with their animals.
“Since we keep our cattle on longer than most” she said, noting that they don’t rush their animals to slaughter like a lot of ranchers, “we started seeing lumps growing in their mouths and throats. Other ranchers called this ‘lump mouth’ and said it was just something that happened.” What she found out, however, was that it was cancer that formed in the mouths of cows who ate the cotton leftovers and was caused by the herbicides and pesticides used in the cotton fields.
“We stopped feeding them that stuff and they stopped getting the tumors.” She said.
She went on to tell me about the strong family bonds that existed between the animals, and how they tried not to break up the families, letting as many generations of cows live together for as long as possible.
I could have talked to her all day, but she had work to do and I had a long drive ahead of me, so we said our goodbyes and I made a note to write about her, about their farm, and about the possibilities that exist to raise animals like cattle in a way that is beneficial for the land and all the life that lives upon, and underneath it.