Grass Nomads: Taking Grazing on the Road
A nomadic lifestyle is the norm for nearly 30 to 40 million pastoralists worldwide. North American graziers on the other hand, live a largely sedentary existence with most inhabiting the same tract of land or region for the majority of their lives.
A new grazing company called Grass Nomads aims to take their grazing work on the road. Currently, based in both New Mexico and Montana, the business aims to partner with conservation-focused landowners and organizations across the West to improve rangeland health with well-managed livestock. This unique venture is a partnership between two young, but experienced graziers, Ariel Greenwood (featured in a past articlehere) and Sam Ryerson.
The pair met through friends and in time struck up a relationship which eventually lead to the start of Grass Nomads LLC.
“We created Grass Nomads as a way to frame our joint efforts and split ownership and decision-making equally,” says Greenwood. “That includes an emphasis on supporting the ecosystems that support us through planned grazing, monitoring, and stockmanship. It also means making our livelihood primarily through our work as practitioners of the land, working closely with animals, and being able to share our work with others who want to join or learn.”
Greenwood and Ryerson make a good team. Together the duo have a shared 25 years of experience in ranching and regenerative agriculture. Previous to Grass Nomads, Greenwood grazed cattle at the Freestone Ranch and Pepperwood Preserve in California.
“I have been lucky to only have grazed in contexts where the ecology was central in our decision-making,” says Greenwood. “That includes two-and-a-half years at Pepperwood Preserve, a research center in Northern California, and also for a private grassfed operation that saw cattle as integral to the land base’s management goals.”
Ryerson got his start in ranching in Montana. Over the years, he slowly worked his way south ending in New Mexico in 2011.
“I have worked on many kinds of ranches and landscapes over the years,” says Ryerson, “but I was lucky to start out learning on a place that practiced holistic grazing planning and ran large groups of cattle (2,000+ head of yearlings) which we moved frequently between pastures.”
Along with his ranch work, Ryerson has managed thousands of goats on weed-control contracts, grazed cattle on wildlife refuges to develop ground-nesting habitat for upland birds, and grazed livestock on private property to improve mule deer habitat. For the past four years, specifically, he’s been based on leased grazing lands managing operations for the Triangle P Cattle Co in the southern end of the state. Greenwood joined Ryerson in the Land of Enchantment in the fall of 2018. Shortly after the two started Grass Nomads.
Through their business, Greenwood explains their current plans are to graze cattle seasonally. This includes straightening out calves, working for Triangle P Cattle Company, and grazing yearlings in the summer. The two also have plans to expand on past grazing consulting work.
“We hope to use Grass Nomads for advising landowners, organizations, and anyone we can help solve problems and develop better programs in their ranches,” says Greenwood, “whether that be grazing planning, stockmanship, infrastructure, or growing and managing good teams.”
Greenwood and Ryerson share similar perspectives on both life and work. In their daily work, holistic planned grazing, mindful stockmanship, and attentive monitoring are commonplace. Out of the saddle, they make a point to be good neighbors, live minimally, and foster their communities.
“We strive to work in a way that is really conscientious, and we hold ourselves to high standards therein,” says Greenwood.
Ryerson expands upon this noting their work also goes beyond the pasture. People are also part of the landscape.
“We want to manage and raise cattle in ways that support people beside ourselves - ways that foster community and broaden it,” notes Ryerson. “This is part of improving the landscape in a resilient way.”
“I don’t just want to produce good meat and be a good neighbor,” says Ryerson. “I want to involve more people in this work.”
This summer Grass Nomads has plans to head to Montana where they’ll be grazing 2200-head of yearlings for a cattle company formerly worked by Ryerson. After the season ends, they will return to New Mexico to support Triangle P’s fall works, but Greenwood notes they are open to all possibilities. Because they live simply and their most impactful tools are mobile (horses, dogs, and a little bit of electric fencing), they are able to move easily and graze effectively in many places, including those with limited infrastructure if need be.
Greenwood especially sees opportunity on the consulting side of their business. She and Ryerson possess a collective experience and intelligence that would benefit any ranch taking a triple bottom line approach to land management.
“For example, there’s a growing number of newly monied and/or absentee ranch owners in the West, which creates a lot of opportunity, as well as some potential sticky situations for the managers and practitioners who work with them,” says Greenwood. “The same goes for conservation and research nonprofits who need grazing but struggle to work with operators. Having worked in those situations before, we may be helpful in advising those groups as to how to navigate successful working relationships.”
Greenwood notes that sometimes the day-to-day operations, relationships, and decision-making can create a bottleneck to achieving the sometimes grandiose claims of regenerative grazing. With Grass Nomads, she and Ryerson hope to change that and make those claims a more digestible and possible reality.
“Working in this space, in particular, feels like an important leverage point for achieving real change across land and time,” says Greenwood.
Learn more about Grass Nomads on theirwebsite.