Author: Tanner Henson, 7th Battalion of Ranch Brigade
I was privileged with an opportunity to attend Ranch Brigade for one week in July of 2019. That week made such an impact on me that I decided to alter the course of my future. As an eighth-grader, I had decided to attend Texas A&M to pursue a degree in Agricultural Leadership in order to continue in the family business of ranch real estate. However, one week of Ranch Brigade and I had found a new passion. I am now on course to pursuing a degree in Biomedical and Veterinary Animal Sciences at Texas A&M to become a large animal vet.
Ranch Brigade is located on the Warren Ranch in Santa Anna, Texas. The lush green pastures and rolling hills are home to a variety of natural grasses and livestock. They have top-notch ranch facilities, as well as first-class lodging and meeting areas. This “camp” is not like any other camp I have ever experienced. The amount of knowledge and hands-on opportunities reminded me of school, but without being boring or tedious! In fact, the enthusiastic and down to earth staff at Ranch Brigade made it a memorable experience that will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s not hard to fall in love with ranching when you spend a week under the influence of ranchers like Mr. Jon Taggart, Mr. Chris Farley, and Mr. Jeff Petter.
What’s the point of learning about livestock production in the beef industry if you’re not going to get to enjoy the “fruits” of your labor? The food at Ranch Brigade is amazing! Cadets learn from calf to kitchen what it takes to raise quality beef. We attended a field trip to Santa Anna Processing and Taxidermy to learn about meat processing and the various cuts of beef. In addition, two members of the Texas Beef Council taught us about food safety and how to properly grill a flat iron steak. It was my first time to ever grill my own steak and I can tell you that if veterinary school doesn’t work out then I might have a real shot at being a grill master!
It’s a good thing they fed us well because we worked up a massive appetite after all of the camp activities. The cadets were grouped into four herds that competed for a trophy buckle and bragging rights. Some of the activities were goat roping and sorting, fence building, and trivia. Mr. Jeff Petter also made sure that we learned farm chores, but in a fun way. Each herd had to work as a team to move square bales, empty feed sacks, and haul water in relays. It was back-breaking labor, but so much fun. It wasn’t all fun and games though. We also gained hands-on experience with working cows. The staff at Ranch Brigade supervised the cadets as we learned how to give medicines, use a branding iron to mark cattle, to dehorn a cow, and even how to castrate a calf or bull. I walked away from Ranch Brigade literally having first-hand experience castrating a calf. How many camps have campers that can say that?!
On a more serious note, Ranch Brigade is important to me because I want to be involved in agriculture and own cattle of my own one day. I have a passion for the outdoors and a desire to be a responsible land steward. Ranch Brigade laid the foundation for me to achieve those goals. The experience also opened doors of opportunity for me to increase my knowledge by keeping records of my accomplishments as I continue my education of the beef and cattle industry. I was able to attend the Beef and Cattle Short Course at Texas A&M where I learned so much and made connections with other people who share similar interests. I have also presented speeches and been given the opportunity to share information and photos of my experiences at camp.
“Educating and empowering the next generation of resource managers with the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully manage and promote sustainable beef production,” is Ranch Brigade’s mission, but the heart of it lies with the ranchers, staff, herd leaders, assistant herd leaders, and graduated cadets. To complete a week of hard work, competitions, team building, leadership activities, projects,and public speaking is no small feat, but the sense of accomplishment and achievement makes it all worth it. No matter who you are, or where you’re from, you won’t leave Ranch Brigade without a passion for land stewardship and livestock production. Not to mention, one of the best weeks of your life filled with fun, knowledge, hard work, and leadership, mixed in with a little sweat and grit.
Article by Tanner Henson, 7th Battalion of Ranch Brigade