In 1989, when Duke Phillips III purchased his first 15 Beef-master cows, he had no idea his venture would grow into the large-scale cattle and bison operation, spanning multiple states and ecosystems, that is now known as Ranchlands. With an emphasis on self-sufficiency and conservation, the Ranchlands team oversees multiple ranches across 300,000 acres of the American West, aiming to preserve both the land and culture in a way that will last for generations to come.
Through it all, Duke and his team have always stayed true to their core philosophy of working to live with the land. Ranchers teach each other to create and maintain a sustainable business that complements the ecosystems they live and work within; the cattle, for example, have been thoughtfully bred to be well acclimated to their specific environment. Ranchers not only depend daily on each other, but also on their horses and trusted working dogs, who remain loyal to their handlers and the job at hand. As Duke has demonstrated for decades, everyone has a say when you choose to work with the land — giving the hardworking dogs of Ranchlands something to bark about.
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The Mendano-Zapata Ranch is nestled in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. Scenic meadows, aging cottonwood groves and the Great Sand Dunes meet in a dance of landscapes that support an array of wildlife, bison, and cattle. Kate, the manager of Zapata Ranch, is often on the move with cattle, stopping regularly — if only briefly — to recognize the vast and changing landscape around her. She’s always in good company: wherever Kate goes, her trusted cattle dog, Pearl, is not far behind. A few years ago, Pearl lost an eye after being kicked in the face by a cow, but it didn’t faze this working dog; she wants nothing more than to receive praise for a job well done.
Deuce, a Hangin’ Tree Cowdog, belongs to Chico Basin Ranch foreman Jake, and the two are inseparable. If you see one of them, you’re sure to find the other close by, whether the task at hand involves moving cattle, fixing fencing, or waiting for bison to come in. If it were up to Deuce, he would always be in the action. But to keep him out of harm’s way, Jake has trained him to stay at the truck. By way of compromise, Deuce often positions himself on the truck so he can keep a watchful eye on Jake and the animals.
Sometimes your most trusted partners on the job aren’t even human. Rash is a border collie who can seemingly read the thoughts of Duke Phillips III, CEO and founder of Ranchlands. When Rash and Duke gather and move a group of cattle, it’s like watching two dear old friends working side-by-side, each all too familiar with the other’s strengths and quirks.
Long days in the saddle can quickly turn a romantic vision of ranching into the sore reality of blisters and an aching behind. Those lucky enough to visit MP Ranch in New Mexico often don’t have as many miles on horseback as Punch, Duke Phillips III’s dachshund, who rides along in a custom leather seat behind Duke’s saddle. Punch isn’t expected to be a working dog, but he definitely isn’t coddled. While he sometimes whimpers in envy at the cow dogs on foot, being an accomplished canine horseback rider is nothing to cry about.
Thick plumes of dust gather as the sound of heavy hooves beats against the nearly frozen ground — but this time it’s not cattle. A herd of around 2,000 wild bison spends 51 weeks of the year grazing on 100,000 acres in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. One week of the year, they are rounded up — by plane, horse, and motorcycle — to the barn at Zapata Ranch for their annual checkup. As the bison enter the chute, whispers of instructions from the foreman cut through the cold November air. Everyone is expected to be quiet, including Pepe the cattle dog, who sits in the shade of the chutes, patiently waiting and watching over his beloved owner, Kate.
With motorcycles used to check miles of fencing and helicopters sent up to direct large herds of cattle from the air, ranching today doesn’t always look like it did in the past. The most successful ranchers choose the right tool for the job — and it’s at the heels of cattle where Tickles, an accomplished herding dog, outshines any modern technology. When he isn’t working, Tickles never turns down a good swim in a cow trough, no matter the weather, and he isn’t afraid to hitch a ride on a motorcycle alongside his beloved owner, Duke Phillips IV.
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