Cattle Grazing + Duke?
by Jack Beuttell -- October 3rd, 2011
I spent last summer working as a ranch hand on Chico Basin Ranch in Colorado. As you can imagine, this represented a major change in context and job content:encoded from my previous position at a real estate investment firm. It was time for a change, and the reasons that led me to the dual degree (MEM/MBA) at Duke were the same that drew me to the ranch: I wanted to gain experience in environmental entrepreneurship and triple-bottom-line decision making.
Chico Basin Ranch operates on a philosophy defined by the holistic management paradigm developed by Allan Savory, who won the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for his work in sustainable agriculture. While the principles underlying this philosophy—that herd animals and prairie grasses coevolved and are interdependent—are obviously age-old, their practice in modern agriculture is surprisingly non-conventional.
That’s why it was so exciting for me last week to sit through Dean Chameides’ presentation on his own summer experience; he traveled to a colleague’s family ranch in New Mexico, which operates a similar-scale, grass-fed beef operation. While the core of his presentation focused on the decision-making dilemma his friends faced regarding the installation of wind turbines on their ranch, Chameides delicately highlighted the fundamentals of the ranch’s rotational grazing practices (i.e., holistic management model).
That he had such a nuanced understanding of holistic grazing practices came as a surprise to me. And not because Chameides is obtuse—clearly he is not! I was surprised that with all of his leadership and administrative responsibility, and with all of the other hot topics in the environmental world, like global warming and the loss of biodiversity, his knowledge about a relatively marginal agricultural practice was current and cutting edge.
This represented a moment of insight for me: PR and marketing aside, the Nicholas School really is at the forefront of environmental issues. Its halls are stocked with celebrity-status professors, whose teaching is characterized by innovative, widely published research and practical, nitty-gritty experience. When I applied to Duke, these realities escaped me. Now, however, they remind me daily to make every moment count.