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The Ranch With More Than One Purpose

By Tobey Schmidt

“If you take one point from today, I hope it’s that we really care about our animals.” Not only did I get that from my day at the Santa Fe Ranch, but I also got one of the most enlightening experiences of my life there. 

As Dean Fish said, “not everybody gets to be a cowboy for a living.” Dean is the Santa Fe Ranch manager and modern day cowboy. And he looks exactly how you’d imagine a cowboy to look, handlebar mustache and all.

I’m a girl from a small town in Indiana, where we spent most of our time in a lake or in the city of Chicago. I had no idea what to expect when coming to this ranch other than what I had seen in movies.

I feared it’d be a somewhat boring visit where they’d show me around, I’d take a few photos and record an interview. Instead, after introductions—when of course, Dean, in the old school fashion took his hat off to shake a lady’s hand—said to me, “Here’s your horse. His name is Bobo. He’s pretty user friendly.” The horse looked at me as if he was thinking, I’ve done this before, hop on.

No waivers. No safety course. No helmet. Just a horse and a saddle and I was ready to follow Dean around as a cowgirl.

Just like Hollywood movies portray, we began herding cattle on our horses. That was the most interesting part to me. Dean explained that the cows have a flight zone. When they feel their flight zone is being invaded they need to let off some pressure, so they walk away from what is invading their flight zone—the horses. The cows go in the direction we want them to. Most of the time. We only had a problem with one little calf that was a different color than the rest of them.  

After herding the cattle into a fenced area, we had to separate the calves from the adults. That’s when Dean said, “alright now you’re going to tag the calves.” He handed me what looked similar to an ear-piercing gun, but bigger. He grabbed one of the week-old calves and told me where to stick the tag. I reluctantly put the gun around the squirming calf’s ear and pushed as hard as I could.  I did that four more times, each time becoming a little steadier and less hesitant. I feel like I have some kind of relationship with those calves. I gave them their first and only piece of jewelry they’ll ever own, so that’s worth something.

Although the looks were similar to the movies I’d seen about ranches, the people and the ideologies of the ranch were not. To Dean, the most important parts of the ranch are the cows and the quality of the land. Dean has a PhD in reproductive physiology from the University of Arizona. Much of his work is scientific. He spends a great deal of time calculating how often the cows should be grazing on each pasture to ensure that all of the grass continues to grow. Dean says much of this comes from the foundation the Santa Fe Ranch was built upon.

The Santa Fe Ranch was originally owned by Paula and Cabot Sedgwick. The Sedgwick’s were strong advocates for preserving the land and its non-renewable resources. That is now part of the purpose of the ranch, which is owned by the Paula and Cabot Sedgwick Family Foundation.

The Santa Fe Ranch partners with local elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges. They work to provide out of doors educational opportunities. Kids come to the ranch to learn about the natural world around us and the importance of conserving and preserving that world.

What I found to be so special about the Santa Fe Ranch, and Dean as the ranch manager, is that they really care more about the land and the livestock themselves rather than the amount of the livestock and land that they own. As it may be true that many ranchers like to boast amount how many cows they own on their ranch, I truly don’t think that’s how the people at the Santa Fe Ranch run their operations.

In many areas of the ranch the fence of their land lies against the fence line of another ranch. It was like looking at the difference between watered grass and grass in a drought. The Santa Fe ranch side had tall grass waving in the wind, while the other side was dark with nothing left but dirt and gravel. Dean explained how that happens when the pastures are taken advantage of and are used too often by roaming livestock. 

I think what much of this country needs is land preservation, and we’re still working toward that. It’s nice to know that a rancher like Dean, who works on 4,200 acres, is making it his own responsibility to preserve that land and make sure it stays beautiful and grassy.

My visit to the ranch was enlightening in many ways. Talking with a rancher from the Southwest about environmental issues is one of the best ways to grasp a perspective other than your own.  I also never thought I’d have the chance to be a real cowgirl for a day. How many people can say they’ve herded cattle with a cowboy? Not only did Dean teach me important lessons of the ranch and the southwest, but without knowing it, I think he also taught me a lesson of awareness.

The Santa Fe Ranch is aware of how much livestock the land can hold before it begins to deplete and lose the grass that the feeds the livestock. They do a respectful job of educating the public on environmental sciences and sustainability. I believe they are doing things right by protecting what’s important in life—the land that we live upon.

For more information on The Santa Fe Ranch, please visit their website at:
Santa Fe Ranch Foundation
or contact them at:
R. Dean Fish, PhD, Ranch Manager, Santa Fe Ranch P.O. Box 1386 Nogales, Az 85628dean@santaferanchfoundation.org, (520) 988-8009 (cell), (520) 287-7051 (office)

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