Our life on the Mescalero Apache cattle ranch

Host: Mescalero Apache Cattle Growers
Written by Ruth Wold, Managers Assistant

Let me introduce myself and our family. My name is Ruth Wold, my husband, Dusty, is employed by the Mescalero Apache Tribe to run their cattle operation on their Reservation in Central New Mexico, USA. We have four boys, Rafe, Cal, Cord, and Grant. They are 14, 12, 7, and 5. We homeschool them and are active in 4-H and church activities in the Mescalero community and in the nearby communities of Ruidoso, an hour to our north and in Alamogordo, 1 ½ hours, to our south. We have been on this ranch since 2014, Dusty has been in ranch management in New Mexico since 2003. We are originally from the desert southwest of Arizona and both grew up in agriculturally active families there. It was always our goal to raise our children with a love of agriculture and the lifestyle that we love.

Our family. From left, Cord, Cal, Dusty, Ruth, Rafe, Grant.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe is a proud culture that pre-dates the United States by generations. They have several enterprises that they, as a tribe, manage. They have a snow ski area, a hotel/casino, tribal store, as well as a telephone and gas company. They offer hunting permits for elk, deer, bear, and turkey, both to their members and to non-tribal members. The reservation itself is comprised of 463,000 acres which comprises of both high mountain forest and higher desert terrain. Tribal members are governed by an elected Tribal President, Vice-President and Council that is elected for two-year terms. Four of the eight council members are elected every year. While traditionally the Apaches didn’t raise cattle, they have been successful in raising cattle as a source of income for their tribe.

View of the part of the ranch, Fall 2016.

One of their first enterprises was the Mescalero Apache Cattle Growers. It began in the 1930s with a board of tribal directors and shareholders. This was the system for many years, with the shareholders electing their directors and having a ranch manager to oversee operations. Eventually the tribal government bought out the shareholders and the ranch is now operated as a tribally-owned enterprise. The Mescalero people are very proud of their cattle operations. Many of its members will tell stories of when their dad, grand-dad, or uncles used to work out at the ranch. When it first started, the ranch raised primarily Hereford cattle but over the years has run mix of Angus/Hereford cattle. We are in a re-building process and are looking to continue to respect the past of the red hided cattle with a mix of Red Angus and Hereford cattle.

Cows gathered in the corral, Fall 2016.

Since Dusty came to the ranch in 2013, he has worked very hard to increase the herd in both size and quality. When we arrived in spring 2013, we branded 730 calves off 1200 cows, in 2017 we branded 1630 calves off 1675 cows this spring. Our fall pregnancy check showed a 93% breed up in our cows. One of our goals here was to increase productivity and quality on the ranch. One of the first steps that Dusty took was to implement a supplemental feeding program for the cows and to begin culling and selling cows that didn’t have a calf every year. He also made sure that cattle were consistently vaccinated, and this has been very instrumental to the continued success of the ranch. The ranch has been able to, in the last four years, maintain its ability to pay for itself and provide employment, year-round, for 9 tribal members and affiliates.

Since the ranch is owned by the Mescalero Apache tribe, tribal members are given preference when hiring and most of the cowboys that currently work here are either tribal members or married to tribal members. The only exception is Dusty. While neither Dusty or myself can claim any US Tribal affiliation we are blessed to be on such a magnificent part of creation. The ranch is one of the best areas to raise cattle in the state. We have plenty of water and good grass lands for grazing. We utilize the higher elevation pastures in the summer and the lower pastures in the winter months. Working as a non-native on a reservation ranch has its own challenges as we don’t work for a traditional owner, but an elected government and its administration and that administration can change directions. We work with the challenges of purchasing all feed, materials, livestock and supplies through a Purchase Order system and without direct access to an operating account. It is a bureaucracy and sometimes navigating the process can be a challenge, but it is one that we feel we have been called to. We really enjoy the ranch and its people. As we look to the future, we are excited about the continued growth of the cattle numbers and continuing to improve upon current infrastructure such as corrals, water systems, and barns.

The new house under construction, completed November 2016.

We are about 20 miles of dirt road from town (32 km), which by Outback standards seems just around the corner, but we are constantly asked how we can live that far from town. We make grocery runs about twice a month and do try to stock up, but can grab fresh items weekly if needed. While we don’t have cellular service at the ranch, we do have a landline phone and hi-speed fiber optic internet. That was installed about three months after our arrival and this was a big deal! Not just to my family, but to those who have worked out here for years! I think I am pretty pampered in my communication abilities here at the ranch and did have a celebration when the line was laid in! Not only did they put in a phone line, but we also got fiber optic internet. I zoom through the web and we are able to use streaming technology for T.V. and movies. No cable or satellite bills anymore. We have electric power and propane tanks for gas, so we don’t rely on generators or solar power. We do get cold up here in the mountains and don’t depend on the electricity staying on during winter storms, so we also have a woodstove for heat if we need it. I also like having a fire when it does get really cold it just makes the house feel so much cozier. Most of the time, we have functioning electricity, phone and internet so really, we don’t have much to complain about in the way of modern technology. I do love that I can have the best of both worlds, the urban conveniences and the rural lifestyle.