I first learned about Texas Brigades when I went to a Texas Youth Hunt at the Brandenburg Ranch in 2017. I was so excited about all the different Texas Brigades Summer Camps like the Bobwhite, Buckskin, Coastal, Bass, and Ranch Brigade; and I couldn’t wait until I turned 13 to apply! I decided my first application would be for Ranch Brigade since I want to be a large animal veterinarian when I grow up and I also wanted to learn stuff that might help my family on our farm. I had never had to complete an essay application before and I was super excited to actually be chosen to attend the Ranch Brigade at the Warren Ranch in Santa Anna, Texas this past summer.
This was my first time being away from home without anybody I knew beforehand. When we started our first day with a heifer necropsy I knew right then that I was in the most perfect place I could be! It didn’t take long to realize that even though we were all from different backgrounds; from working ranches, to family farms and even the city, we all loved learning about ranching. The staff and volunteers at the Ranch Brigade were fantastic! They treated us with so much respect and patience. I couldn’t believe that many of the adults volunteered their vacation time to helping us and it was so obvious that they believed in us and all our potential. It was amazing to find out how much I had in common with the other cadets and how quickly our “herds” became like family. From team building activities, to practiced public speaking, to roping goats and driving t-posts, there were life lessons learned in every nail we hammered and every plant we inspected. I have never been so happy to be working so hard and sleeping so little. I never wanted it to end and I wondered constantly what we would learn next! I knew I loved animals and working outside but I never knew all the career possibilities and how important ranching and cattle production is for our society! Meat isn’t just something you buy on a little white tray at HEB. It is a process involving countless people, time, and resources. It is an industry that plays a really important role to providing and feeding our communities with safe and reliable food. Ranch Brigade was able to let us explore a meat processing plant and then learn how to grill on my own (without my dad!). These were experiences that most of us would have never had available to us anywhere else and really helped us with first hand, hands-on, experience! I really wished the camp was two weeks long and I just didn’t want to go home. But little did I know that my Texas Brigades experience wasn’t over yet.
Texas Brigades may only be a week long, but they take the whole experience one step further by having cadets earn points to possibly go back as assistant leaders. Earning my points has also been a real learning experience for me. Before Ranch Brigade I was pretty quiet and reserved. Now I’m learning that in order to spread the word about wildlife conservation and cattle production I have to step up and be a leader. I have been giving speeches to youth and adult organizations and creating educational trifolds to display around town. I have learned how to go up to people I have never met before and tell them what Ranch Brigade is all about and ask them if they would help me spread the word by letting me put my trifolds up. I have also learned about networking and have experienced firsthand how meeting someone in one meeting led me to another opportunity to speak at another meeting. It is also pretty cool when other students at school say “you gave a speech at my 4H meeting; how do I find out more about that?”
I cannot thank Ranch Brigade enough for all the things I have been taught and that I am continuing to learn and grow from. We had some of the most knowledgeable professionals such as Mr. Farley and Mr. Taggart sharing their professions and passing down their passion to us. As well as my Herd Leader Ms. Lennon, who took pride in helping me come out of my shell, find my voice, and always push myself a little further in all that I do. All of our leaders were inspirational and worthy role models for everything I do in life. I learned something from everybody in my herd and I hope that our paths will continue to cross in the future. I’m just starting to write my life journey and I never know where my path will take me but I do know that wherever I end up I will look back and say, “It all started with Texas Brigades.”
– Ridley Strackbein
Cadet, 6th Battalion Ranch Brigade
*Article to be published in Texas Trophy Hunters Magazine in 2019 – stay tuned!*