By Gillian Thornton Andrews
April 10, 2023
In late February, the town of Red Lodge, MT was under two feet of snow and experiencing yet another wave of sub-zero temperatures—one more storm in what had so far been a long winter. Chia and Ivan Thrane, the owners of Healthy Meadows, a family ranch in the hills above town, were busy ensuring that their herd of 200 breeding goats were staying warm and getting enough hay. “It feels somewhat like the Vikings when they settled in Greenland,” joked Ivan, warming up in front of a wood stove as we talked over Zoom.
The family manages a herd of Montana-hardy meat and milk goats that they use for targeted grazing and weed management. As approved grazing contractors in Carbon County, Chia, Ivan, and their herd of goats offer weed management services in the form of paid partnerships with local landowners, practicing rotational grazing with the goal of having a positive impact on the land. Their goats not only help keep invasives in check without the use of herbicides, they also help fertilize pastures, promoting microorganisms that contribute to improved soil health.
Ivan and Chia see rotational grazing as a way to collaborate with landowners to support land renewal and regeneration. “We value the relationship component of working with private landowners. We walk the herd everywhere; we have a whole grazing circuit around Red Lodge. In a lot of ways it’s like this seasonal celebration,” says Ivan. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the concept of transhumance and grazing in our communities.” This seasonal migration can be a joyous occasion, adds Chia, the way it is often celebrated in other cultures where livestock are decorated with flowers or bells, and festivals are held in honor of pastoralism. “You don’t do that when the crew comes to spray—it’s a very different kind of experience.”
Healthy Meadows was the 2022 recipient of AERO’s Jane Kile Memorial Scholarship. Supported by an endowment made in honor of early AERO member Jane Kile, a conservationist and pioneer in Montana’s organic and community-supported agriculture movements, the scholarship awards funding for projects aimed at furthering sustainability efforts and resiliency in the state. The Thranes used the $600 scholarship to purchase a meat grinder for their expanding butchering facility, which they use for processing their own meat as well as offering workshops on holistic butchering. “It is part of our vision to have this space be a resource for neighbors and community members,” says Chia. “During a time of uncertain and unreliable meat processing facilities in our region and our country, we see the ability to process our own meat as a source of resiliency for not just ourselves but also our surrounding area, which is still largely ranchland.”
Ivan and Chia host an annual two-day Holistic Goat Butchering Workshop, offering participants a chance to reclaim the tradition of home butchery. Through the course, participants not only learn best-practices for processing small ruminants with minimal waste, but also spend time with the herd, exploring the animal in its context as a part of a healthy ecosystem. After processing the meat, the class prepares a meal together using in-season ingredients.
“Holistic butchering fills a need in our region to educate about regenerative agriculture, to empower people with the knowledge and skills involved in harvesting and butchering, and we hope it can also be part of growing a local culture that celebrates the caretaking of a place and eating well,” explains Chia.
In the future, the Thranes envision building a larger facility and growing their capacity to host more workshops. Knowledge-sharing and learning are core values of their business. On the Healthy Meadows website, Ivan and Chia invite visitors to deepen their connection with nature by participating in place-based workshops, children’s summer camps, and guided hikes. Through these offerings, as well as by engaging their neighbors in their weed management practices, Ivan and Chia are excited about fostering ‘ecological literacy’ in their community and sharing traditional agrarian skills that support reciprocal relationships between people, animals and landscapes.
“Often [in the West] our land use doesn’t reflect the practices to optimize land health,” says Chia. “We love that our work promotes awareness in our community of natural land management, as well as encouragement to connect and engage with wildlife, livestock and the natural world.”
You can learn more about Healthy Meadows at www.creatinghealthymeadows.com.
AERO’s Jane Kile Memorial Scholarship is available annually to residents who are active stewards of Montana lands, a farm or agricultural operation, or their local community food system. Learn more and submit an application for the 2023 Jane Kile Memorial Scholarship at: www.aeromt.org/jane-kile.
Photos courtesy of Ivan Thrane.