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Meet the newest generation of Western rancher

A woman is standing in a grassy field and segmenting portions of it with vertical poles and horizontal string as a barrier. Several sheep are standing inside one of the segmented areas.
Louise Johns
Maloi Lannan sets up temporary pasture for her sheep. By focusing their grazing in a concentrated area for a brief period of time, she can encourage them to graze more evenly rather than cherry-picking the plants they prefer and leaving the rest.

Across the West, women are changing the ways land and livestock are managed. Ashley Ahearn saddled up for the Mountain West News Bureau to chronicle their big dreams – and daily challenges. This is the third story of a three-part series.

Maloi Lannan is sleepily putting on boots in the mudroom of her home in Montana’s Paradise Valley. It’s 2:47 a.m.

“I’m going to check Babette to see if she is starting to lamb,” the 14-year-old says.

It’s cold – early spring – and the stars are bright here, outside Bozeman. Most of Maloi’s sheep are in a nearby pen; a separate pen holds one very pregnant ewe.

“Babette. Hi.” Maloi looks at the ewe’s swollen udders and vulva for any sign that she’s ready to give birth.

“You’ve really got nothing do you, Babette. Not yet? No,” she says, before heading back to bed.

Babette’s baby – when it’s born – will be the first member of the new generation of Maloi’s flock. It’s her first foray into ranching on her own – running a business, and taking responsibility for livestock and the land, with the help and guidance of her parents, Meagan and Pete Lannan, who run Barney Creek Livestock.

Maloi’s part of the newest generation of ranchers who are adopting more holistic and sustainable livestock and land management practices.

Her mom, Meagan, says it’s no surprise that women seem to be leading the movement.

A woman is sitting on a tree trunk while holding a baby lamb. The baby lamb is greeted by its mother.
Louise Johns
Maloi Lannan holds Babette’s new baby, the first lamb born to her growing flock. Maloi plans to rotationally graze her sheep as a tool for promoting soil health, just like her parents do with their cows.

Meagan says women ranchers aren’t likely to respond to problems with brute force. “We’re nurturing and gathering and collecting. And that just comes naturally.

“It’s a softer balance where you’re in the ecosystem and you’re not doing to it … . I think that’s what I’ve seen a lot of women that I've met that really bring to this industry, that, that feels new.”

Meagan says she and her husband, Pete, are a team and she couldn’t do what she does without him.

That night at the kitchen table, the Lannans talk about the ranch’s future. The parents say there will always be a place for both of their children to work the ranch. But at this point, Pete says, Maloi is showing more interest than her younger brother Liam, who’s into motorcycles and dirt bikes.

“She’s been the one who’s made her business and had her sheep and all that and puts the effort into it,” Pete says. “It’s cool. And not that Liam isn’t into it or doesn’t contribute, but he’s, he has other interests, and that’s fine."

Asked whether that’s hard for him as a dad, Pete gets quiet for a few moments. He looks down at his hands.

“Poppy. Don’t cry,” says Maloi, who’s sitting next to him. “You’re gonna make me want to cry. Poppy doesn’t cry often.”

“You gotta stop first,” he says.

Later, he adds, “No, it’s not. It’s not hard for me from a perspective of like: ‘Oh, my son isn’t as into this as my daughter is.’ That isn’t hard for me. No I’m very proud of you. It’s a good thing.”

The next day, after the kids go off to school, Meagan checks on Babette. The ewe is rolled over on her side in the pasture and Meagan knows it’s time. So she gets Maloi out of school.

A woman is flicking a bundle of greenery over a fence for several sheep to eat. The sheet are gathered around the fence.
Louise Johns
Maloi Lannan feeds her flock, new baby in tow.

Maloi rushes home, happy to get out of German class. “I’m shaking I’m so excited.”

Together, mom and daughter watch over Babette.

“So what do you see, what’s going on?” Meagan asks.

“You can see the baby’s nose and its two feet,” Maloi says. “So it looks like it's positioned right and coming out. The other sheep are freaked out.”

Meagan asks how Maloi knows not to help Babette.

“Because I can see that the two hooves front hoofs are coming out and the head’s positioned right. … So that tells me that her baby’s head’s not curved back or one leg’s not pushed back.

“... it’s going right. Yeah, push Babette!”

Soon, Babette greets her new baby. It’s a girl.

You can learn more about Maloi and other ranchers at Women’s Work, a new podcast from the Mountain West News Bureau. Check it out wherever you get your podcasts.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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