Kim Shade and his family have ranched in Idaho and the Dakotas over the past 45 years, and since 1993 has run their Angus and Longhorn herds in the shortgrass prairie badlands of the North Dakota stronghold of the Western Meadowlark, North Dakota’s state bird. While Kim embraces new technologies to an extent, he also believes in doing things the traditional way where it’s most important - riding, packing, and driving cattle on horseback, keeping his romantic view of the western way of life close to his heart and how he practices his animal and land management. His kids and now grandkids share this with him and work hard to keep motorized vehicles off their land and out of their work with animals. He knows well the art of the Ferrier (horseshoeing) and he once farmed 60 acres in South Dakota with a 6-horse moldboard plow just so that he could know how our forefathers coped with the frontier. “I’ve seen both sides of how to do things and I think people are way too quick to throw out old ways” says Kim. “A horse grounds you. When I’m on my horse Music out on the range I can feel the condition of the earth through his body and hear the call of a lost calf. That’s why I don’t use ATVs. And Music is smart - he’s my partner. He knows how to cut cattle just like me. An engine doesn’t!” For these reasons, and also to prevent erosion, no ATVs or off-road vehicles are used for working the cattle on our ranch. All drives, round-ups and routine off-road back country surveys are done on horseback. Kim believes ranching is an extension of an ancient land ethic going back to our roots as human beings. “For the entire history of humanity we lived with domesticated animals” he says. “It’s only in the last hundred years we’ve become separated from that, and I think we’re a bit less human for it. That’s one reason I’m still a horseback cowboy. To feel the health of the range through the body of your horse as you ride through it, and use the wisdom and abilities of a strong animal to manage your herd and go places no machine can take you….there’s nothing like it.” The Shade family takes this a step further by using a traditional 19th century chuck wagon during annual branding and round-ups. It’s a light-hearted but seriously authentic tip of the hat to a uniquely American tradition that brings neighbors together in times of hard but rewarding work. For this work, and for winter sled rides, the family keeps a team of Percheron draft horses that, like their working quarter horses, they allow to range freely near the ranch where they have access to the shaded creek waters. All cooking for family and guests is done on seasoned cast iron, with grilling done only with real hardwood charcoal, never the briquets that can alter the flavor of the meat. Running your own ranch is a demanding life of being up at dawn and often going to bed with the birds tired to the bone. It’s rarely the high romance of thundering hooves, singing guitars and lowing cattle. More often, it’s dry tanks, lost animals, twisted knees and busted equipment. The phrase “making ends meet” takes on new dimensions when your family has both two and four legs and thrift is a necessity. Part of that thrift is stretching the life of your machinery. Kim still rides the 1950 Oliver tractor he first learned to drive on, and a fully restored 1953 Ford Jubilee drills corner postholes and runs general chores about the ranch. “Part of being strong out here in the Dakotas is being ready for whatever nature or circumstances can throw at you” says Kim “That’s the value of being thrifty, and that’s also the value of paying attention to history and our Western heritage, because it makes us resilient. It’s a campfire of knowledge that shouldn’t be allowed to go out. I’m glad in this new age so many people are starting to realize that too.”
14219 Tracy Mountain Road, Medora, North Dakota 58645, United States
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