Ranch Diaries: The risks of ranching on a wild landscape

How the threat of predators has fundamentally shaped my relationship with nature.


I’d stopped by to say hello to a friend’s beautiful baby boy, and was just leaving. Still buzzing with the awe of new life, I made my way through the yard, back to my car. As I headed for the gate, I nearly ran into a small black object. I jumped. It jumped, and ran to the corner of the yard.  

My eyes slowly focused. The dark shape grew edges. It was a tiny black calf with a very strange face.

Then I remembered my friend telling me about a dogie whom coyotes had attacked. This calf’s jaw was fixed partway open. I couldn’t tell in the dark, but from the photos she’d texted me, this little guy was lucky to be alive: his rear had been chewed up, and his jaw was broken and infected when they found him. After steroids, antibiotics, and pain medication, the calf perked up. But how to swallow with a malfunctioning mouth? Like so many animal survivors I’ve seen, his will to live was remarkably strong, and he soon figured out how to manage a bottle nipple.

  • A few summers ago, Sam doctored a calf that narrowly escaped a bear.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Black bear tracks.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Bulls, like these Triangle P fellows, aren't generally targeted by predators.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Coconut the elk, whom we haven't seen since last Thanksgiving, likely lost her 2015 calf to a predator.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Wolf tracks on a New Mexico ranch.

    Laura Jean Schneider

I had plenty of material to mull on during my two-hour drive home. The intersection between domestic and wild lives isn’t always harmonious. In the years that I’ve been ranching, I’ve seen depredations by wolves, bears and coyotes. Raising domestic livestock has given me a picture of what happens in the wild. I don’t want to see the picked-clean, nose-less skull of a calf still wedged in a cow’s birth canal, her vulva eaten away as she struggled to give birth. Yet I can image a cow elk or moose in the same situation. I haven’t had to shoot a domestic cow in this condition yet, but my husband has. I can only assume the end result for a wild animal mother is far less humane.

It’s easy to valorize nature as the efficient machine that only takes what she needs to survive. But nature is not merciful. In addition to killing for survival, nature kills without conscience or remorse. Nature tortures, maims, and leaves the wounded. When we choose to ranch on a wild landscape, that’s part of the risk we take. While we plan for a certain percentage of death loss to predators, it doesn’t make it easier to find the aftermath of an attack.

I respect that I share a landscape with predators who play an important role in the ecosystem. As a young teen I had a summer job for a wildlife film company. I raised and cared for timberwolves, Arctic fox kits, and coyote pups. I loved and cared for them loyally, just as I now care deeply about each and every Triangle P calf that comes into the world.    

But now I cannot be 100 percent neutral about depredation, because my job is to keep our cattle safe and make a viable living from raising them to maturity. As my responsibilities have changed, so, to some degree, has my relationship with nature. I love seeing wildlife, sunsets, and Pajarita Mountain peeking up through low hanging clouds, like it is this morning. It’s stunning here. Yet somewhere out beyond the sunny juniper covered hillsides is some smaller being struggling for its life. 

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • WINTER WILDLANDS ALLIANCE POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • 20mi N of Steamboat Springs, majestic views, aspen forest, year-round access, yurt, septic, solar electric, seasonal ponds, no covenants, bordering National Forest. Ag status. $449K....
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.