Ranch Brigade, one of six Texas Brigades conservation leadership programs, is more than a camp.
“As a parent I can say the Ranch Brigade is one of the best leadership enrichment activities that our family has ever encountered,” said Lorie Woodward Cantu, who is my mother and lives in San Angelo. “This is a ringing endorsement because our son is an Eagle Scout, a FFA member and active church member, so he has had the opportunity to participate in a lot of camps and leadership training.”
According to its mission statement, the Texas Brigades exists “to educate and empower youths with leadership skills and knowledge in wildlife, fisheries, and land stewardship to become conservation ambassadors for a sustained natural resource legacy.”
The program’s goal is having conservation leaders in every community. To that end, participants learn conservation principles as well as leadership skills. Each camp is a combination of classroom and field experiences designed to provide hands-on learning. For example, students at Ranch Brigade participated in a necropsy, which is dissection on large-scale, on a heifer. In addition, the students participate in teambuilding, critical thinking and communication activities.
“The information was presented in a way that made an impact,” Woodward Cantu said. “Having the chance to ‘get their hands’ dirty, whether it was making a plant collection, assisting in a necropsy or participating in a mock interview created experiences that went far beyond words on a page.”
At the Ranch Brigade, the advisory committee and instruction staff include professionals from the TCU Ranch Management School, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, state and federal natural resource agencies, universities and working ranches.
“The instructors are leaders in their respective fields,” Woodward Cantu said. “For students interested in agriculture and natural resources, the opportunity to network with industry leaders is unsurpassed.”
Upon arrival at Ranch Brigade, the students are divided into four herds and they spend the week vying for the title of Top Herd. The competitive fun ranges from quiz bowls to a ranch Olympics contest that includes goat roping and post hole digging.
The competition does not end at the conclusion of the four-and-a-half-day program. Cadets are encouraged to return to their communities and spread stewardship’s story by making presentations, conducting research and working with the media. Points are earned for each activity.
“The end of Ranch Brigade is really the beginning,” Woodward Cantu said. “The organizers have ingeniously created incentives that encourage the cadets to put their newfound skills to work back in their communities.”
The cadets who accrue the most points, are eligible for several scholarships provided by the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. The scholarships range from $1,000-$4,000. Top point-earners are also invited back to camp as assistant herd leaders.
“Ranch Brigade changed the way our son thought about land, cattle and their uses,” Woodward Cantu said. “As he told me, ‘Cattle aren’t just steaks but tools that allow us to improve the land. And land isn’t just grass and dirt, it’s the foundation of a way of life that keeps rangeland open and productive. Whether people realize it or not, rangeland is home base for life — and ranchers take care of it for us all.'”
The 2016 Ranch Brigade, open to students ages 13-17, is scheduled for July 18-22 at Warren Ranch near Santa Anna. Applications, available at www.texasbrigades.org, are due March 15.
For more information about Ranch Brigade, go to www.texasbrigades.org or call 210-556-1391.