Ranch Diaries: A New Mexico cattle company is born

How we decided to start our own business on the Mescalero Apache Reservation.

 

Note from the editors: This essay marks the first installment of a new newtowncarshare.info series to highlight the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider and Sam Ryerson, members of a younger generation of cattle ranchers. Making a living in an industry that faces an ever-evolving host of obstacles like drought, climate changes, political forces, and a volatile cattle market, is challenging. In Ranch Diaries, Schneider will give us a peek into what it’s like to take on those challenges during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. This first installment brings us up to speed with how the author arrived at where she is now.

Laura Jean Schneider and Sam Ryerson, ranchers in southcentral New Mexico.
Since October my husband and I have been living in a solar-powered camper on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation southeast of Ruidoso, New Mexico. We’re managing 1,000 head of cattle on 90,000 acres of leased range. It’s beautiful, wild country, reaching high into the Sacramento Mountains to the west and sloping down to the east in big rolling ridges dotted with juniper. After 30 inches of rain during the last growing season, there’s a strong and diverse forage base.

Our journey here was unconventional, but we’re proud of it. We weren’t ranch kids, or even from the West. Sam’s from Cambridge, Massachusetts and I’m from outside Hinckley, Minnesota. Some people wonder if two people who studied architecture and English have what it takes to run a ranch, but that doesn’t bother us. Like Sam says, everyone’s family came from somewhere else originally.

I had horses growing up. Sam rode a bit back east and occasionally on his uncle’s ranch in New Mexico. By the time we met near Roscoe, Montana, in 2005, he’d found himself a good gelding and was working as a ranch hand; I had spent two years as a dude wrangler. Neither of us intended to be cowboys or ranchers, but once we got started, we couldn’t quit. We had a whole lot of try and some good, patient teachers. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

In 2009, Sam began a ranch management apprenticeship at the San Juan Ranch in Colorado, sponsored by the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit that works to build ecological resilience in Western working landscapes. As he finished the yearlong apprenticeship, he found a management job at Spur Lake Cattle Company, a big new outfit along the Arizona / New Mexico state line. I joined him the following May and we got married on the back porch of our house. A few weeks later, the largest wildfire in Arizona history started burning straight for us. We survived, and in spite of another record-breaking forest fire the following year, prolonged droughts and contagious bovine diseases, we were able to improve the Spur Lake herds’ conception rate and weight gain every year.

By the fall of 2013, we decided it was time for us to try to put our own deal together. In April our friend and current partner, a long-time rancher from Springer, New Mexico, discovered an available pasture lease on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. He introduced us to a few potential partners who have many years of experience in the cattle business, and after drafting a solid business plan, we decided to form an LLC together: Triangle P Cattle Company.  

After five months of negotiating terms, we signed a one-year lease. We put our entire savings on the line and signed two big bank notes to purchase cattle and pay for operating expenses. The company purchased a 320 square-foot camper and we drove it out to the reservation. It’s our home as long as we’re here. Sam and I own a 20 percent stake in the company. We’re the only co-owners on-site; he’s paid a salary as the full-time manager and I help on a part-time basis.

Our camper is over an hour from Ruidoso on dirt roads, and about the same distance from our nearest neighbors at the Tribe’s ranch headquarters, where they run a resident herd of cows. We can look out our west window at Pajarita Mountain and see our geldings and our Jersey milk cow and calf grazing the open pasture to the east. It’s satisfying to ride through cattle branded “Triangle P” on the left rib and know they’re ours.

It’s exciting to build a permanent herd of cows, and given the volatile cattle market, it seems smart to diversify by running commercial yearling cattle as well. One of the biggest benefits to this lease is that the Tribe maintains the complex livestock water system, with dozens of troughs and miles of pipeline. Yet we’re experiencing the challenges many other big, remote ranches face, too: accessibility, maintaining fences and covering a large land area. We work horseback as much as possible—in many cases, the terrain is too rough to navigate any other way—and we usually ride daily to keep our cattle located on the best feed while preventing overgrazing.

These days, we’re getting ready to calve out 500 heifers, supplementing their diet of native grasses with protein blocks and a custom, free-choice loose mineral blend. 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. 

---

Photographs of cattle taken by Laura Jean Schneider at her ranch. 

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.