At the start of college, anthropology and biology double major Brandon Sickel ’18 thought he wanted to be a veterinary scientist—toil in a lab, work with test tubes, conduct tissue analyses, all on a daily basis. “[I] spent a lot of time doing gene therapy research in a research lab at the University of Pennsylvania during my freshman and sophomore years,” he says.
But it was a campus job in the Haverford Arboretum that changed his focus completely.
“It was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my Haverford experience, and taught me a lot of physical skills, in addition to the value and pleasure of manual labor in the outdoors,” he says. “The horticulturists I worked with, some semesters every day of the week, became some of my best friends, and I learned an incredible amount from working with them about trees, the natural world, and the Haverford campus. A lot of my current interests grew from my time working for the Arboretum and how it taught me to see the campus as more than just a campus, but as a landscape, and that the actions of individual people can have real and lasting impacts on the local ecosystem.”
Those current interests include how humans relate to their natural environment. And, to explore that further, Sickel signed on for a six-month internship with a ranching company known as Ranchlands back in December.
“What brought me to work for… Ranchlands, in particular, is that they are a ranch management organization that manages large-scale properties with ambitious conservation goals and a high environmental ethic for land stewardship,” Sickel says. “I am especially interested in land management and conservation as a possible career path, and working at Ranchlands offered me a way to do that sort of work while spending the entirety of every day outside, which is something I strive to do for the rest of my life.”
He’ll certainly get a chance to do that this summer: In May, he flew out to mountainous Colorado Springs, Colo., to start work on Chico Basin Ranch, an 87,000-acre working cattle ranch. There, Sickel brands calves, studies rotational grazing methods, moves cattle between pastures, monitors and repairs temporary electric fence lines, checks water tanks across the ranch to ensure that they’re functioning adequately, and generally makes sure the animals have enough to eat and drink.
“A lot of it sounds pretty simple, “ Sickel says, “but on such a large property, taking care of 3,000 or so cows and a herd of working horses is actually a lot of work every day… Sometimes we’ll ride more than 20 miles [on horseback] in a day.”
Though working as a ranch hand, with the job’s emphasis on physical labor, might seem an odd choice after spending four years in college, Sickel is looking forward to a change from poring over textbooks and churning out essays.
“In school, we all spend a lot of time learning skills with our brains,” he says, “and I really want to learn some skills with my body too: horsemanship, fixing and maintaining water and fencing systems, moving and sorting cattle on horseback over large distances, etc., and making a grazing plan for the cattle based on only what the land can sustainably provide.”
His internship is six months long, though he may stay longer if he’s offered an apprenticeship with Ranchlands.
“I want to immerse myself in the natural world and spend as much time working outdoors as possible,” he says. “Ranch management is one way to do that, but there are other ways, too. I may eventually go to graduate school to study rangeland ecology, forestry, or even anthropology, but for now, I am just making the most of my new life at the Chico, and trying to enjoy every day.”
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.
Photo: Ranch hand Brandon Sickel ’18 surveys one of the herds of cattle he helps to oversee. Photo courtesy of Isabel Butler.