I have a surprise for you! You thought you might read a little about life on the ranch for a cowgirl in South Dakota, but as the resident cowgirl is literally running around in circles at the Jurassic Classic this weekend, you’re just going to have to refocus about 1200 miles to the south. My name is Thea and I’m a New Mexico Cowgirl – so welcome to a brief look at cowgirl life in the Land of Enchantment!
When I learned that Miss Jenn was entertaining the idea of a few guest posts for this weekend I jumped at the chance to tell you all a little about how life, ranching and horse wrangling differs out here in the *high desert. I am blessed to be living and working on the historical San Augustine Ranch nestled in the foothills on the east side of the Organ Mountains in southwestern New Mexico, where the love of my life and full time cowboy manages the day-to-day activities of a commercial and registered Hereford cow-calf operation … I am self-appointed Saddle Boss (turns out you don’t get paid for self appointed positions, but they let me keep my horses so I call it a win!).
Ranching in the high mountain desert country is a simultaneously a rough and rewarding experience. The San Augustine is comprised of approximately 15,000 acres of deeded and BLM leased land where about 150-200 cow-calf pairs reside under our care. Also calling the San Augustine home is a capable remuda of ten cow-eating steeds … nearly half of which belong to me!
The annual rainfall in our area is about 10” per year; however, the ranch itself is lucky to be in the generous keeping of a mountain rain shadow that results in a historical average of about 20” of rain annually. With that mountain blessing comes the added challenge of exceptionally rugged and rocky terrain, meaning less forage than would be available in the open desert plains.
Given these checks and balances, the conservative stocking rate of about nine animal units (AUs) per section (about 640 acres) as reported for areas in the Chihuahuan Desert is probably a good estimation for our area as well. (This is of course just a best estimate on my part as I’m no range scientist and am certainly not qualified to calculate the exact forage pounds per acre here that would provide a more accurate estimation!) As you’ve often heard on this blog, “grass is not infinite,” and that what may sound like expansive acres of land does not necessarily translate into endless quantities of quality feed – this makes proper range management and diligent pasture rotation essential to a successful ranching operation.
If you break out a pencil and paper (or a calculator if you’re lazy like me) and do a little quick math, you’ll discover that works out to be about 70 acres per AU, and assuming a horse is equal to roughly 1.25 AUs (depending on who you ask), in theory we need around 875 acres to sustain our modest herd of hard working ranch ponies. A little less than twice what they’d need living on the range in prairies of South Dakota! When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see that diligent pasture management is not optional – ranchers are excellent at rationing precious limited resources. (Jenn, please note my 17 year old mare has requested relocated retirement with you if possible.)
Growing up in the lush green land of evergreens and glacial lakes in northern Idaho, it has taken time for me to warm up to the dry, rugged desert landscape and truly wrap my brain around the fact that water and grass are not an endless resource. They call it the Land of Entrapment Enchantment for good reason though, and I have truly fallen in love with this enduring, evolving and persistent landscape.
I spend my weekends in the saddle following trails that were cut hundreds of years ago by ranchers first settling the gritty southwest – land where American history literally unfolded. I am ridiculously blessed to be living a lifestyle that seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate, making it feel even more critical that I impart any taste of it I can with the rest of the world.
Thanks for taking a moment to let me share it with you here.
*Your resident cowgirl LOVES the high desert, and Thea, if your mare would like to come live with my boss gelding, Zero, he’d love to have a mare in his herd! If you enjoyed this installment from Thea, you can read more about her here!