How Hiking the Arizona Trail Led Me to Abandon Cattle Ranching and Changed Everything
Adventure Journal (August 14, 2019) by Laura Jean Schneider
“Any day now, calves should be hitting the ground, but until then, it’s the two of us, working toward our vision of productive, healthy rangelands, good cattle and good horses, trying to make a go of it.” This sentence started a 20-month chronicle of the inception and progress of a New Mexico cattle company in the High Country News web series, “Ranch Diaries.” I was contracted to write the essays, but I can no longer stand behind those words.
That ranch life that I depicted, always with a positive outlook, was a complex situation even at the time, melding a lease on the Mescalero Apache Reservation with multiple business partners and a significant financial risk. But things weren’t always peachy. Creatures died; fencing was endless; the work itself was endless. And the quarreling with my then-husband felt endless, too. The pressure of this lifestyle eventually proved too much. A few months after the last installment was published in fall 2016, I left the ranch.
Now I regard myself as a recovering rancher. By sharing the personal story of how I came to this decision, I’m publicly shedding an identity. When I wrote “Ranch Diaries,” I wanted to believe that I was living my best possible life, empowering other female producers, encouraging youth in animal-based agriculture, and patiently explaining the benefits of humanely handled grassfed beef. After several years of distance from ranching and a transformative trip on foot back to the landscape I’d fled, I’ve gained a new perspective on raising and eating animals. And it is very different one: I no longer eat meat.
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