Farmstay U.S. Blog

Created for and by travelers and the farmers, these posts will cover a variety of topics related to farm stays in the U.S.

Archive for tag: featured farm

Westgate River RanchWestgate River Ranch is located on 1700 acres in Central Florida, just an hour from Orlando. Not your typical cattle-wrangling operation, Westgate provides plenty of family opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with everything from a petting corral and rodeo to swamp buggy rides and trap and skeet shooting.

We fired off some questions to the ranch to find out exactly what they have to offer.

Can you tell me a little about the history of Westgate River Ranch?

Believe it or not, Florida actually served as the original birthplace of the American cowboy. Long before cowboys became the symbol of the American West in the late 19th century, Seminole Indians, Spanish colonists and American settlers called “Crackers” herded cattle in Florida. Westgate River Ranch is located on some of the same land that those first cowboys roamed years ago.

In the early 1700s, American settlers began migrating to Florida out of the Carolinas and Georgia. These early settlers quickly took advantage of the wild cattle roaming the state. They often were called “cow catchers” because they would capture the wild cattle and build herds from them that they would drive to the seaports of Florida and sell to the Spanish that were sailing in from Cuba and Puerto Rico. The cattle would be taken back to Cuba and Puerto Rico to stock the ranches of the Spanish islands and be used as a food source.

These first American cowboys eventually became known as “cracker cowboys” and the Spanish cattle and horses that they made their living with were called “cracker horses” and “cracker cattle.”

The area that became known as River Ranch once served as a stopping point along the trail for the cracker cowboys during their cattle drives across the state. They would meet each other here at certain times of the year and bring together the small herds of wild cattle that they had caught into one large herd. By doing that they could help each other get those cattle to market.

Westgate River Ranch lodging

River Ranch was originally built in the 1960s by Gulf American Corp. (GAC), then one of the largest land developers in the state, as the centerpiece of a huge proposed development in the area called “River Ranch Acres.” In 2001, Westgate Resorts purchased River Ranch and Westgate River Ranch reopened its doors the following year.


What is the area like and how do people get to you?

Westgate River Ranch, which has evolved into the largest dude ranch East of the Mississippi, lies on 1,700 beautiful acres and is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands. We are located about an hour south of Orlando – easily accessible by car and RV.

Westgate River Ranch bedroom

What is the lodging like – can you describe a few of the options?

  • Standard and Deluxe Lodge rooms featuring queen beds and in room kitchenette.
  • One and Two Bedroom Cottages, sleeping up to 6 guests. These cottages were completely renovated in 2013 and feature full kitchens.
  • The Saddle Club – these feature studios, one bedroom deluxe cabins, one bedroom grand cabins and two bedroom cabins – these units were all completely renovated in 2013, and feature new dark wood furniture and luxurious lighting and linens.
  • Glamping – ‘Glamorous Camping’ – set in a beautiful wooded area, each tent is set on a platform and is fully furnished, in addition they come with heating/air conditioning, features 2 rocking chairs on the deck, plus each tent has its own grill and picnic table and comes with a key to a private bathroom and shower. The Glamping site also includes a personal concierge service.Westgate River Ranch Glamping Tents
  • Tent Camping - Escape to nature and relaxation at the Westgate River Ranch campsites, which are nestled in a beautiful wide-open area. We conveniently carry firewood, charcoal, and most other camping supplies in the General Store if you happen to need extra comforts you may have forgotten. Westgate River Ranch Glamping Tents Interior
  • RV Site - Each RV Site offers power and water hookups.
  • As of August 2013, we now have shared bathroom facilities with showers within a short walking distance of the campsites. Enjoy camping at an award-winning resort that offers endless activities both day and night!

Who does the resort cater to and how friendly is it towards kids?

We cater to couples, families and groups. We are extremely child friendly with endless activities.

What is a typical visit like, i.e. what do people do while staying with you?

We have an abundance of activities on offer at the ranch – horse back riding, air boat rides, swamp buggy rides, archery range, basketball, boat rentals, dinner hayride, fishing, full service marina, mechanical bull, nine hole golf course, petting farm, pony rides, trap & skeet range, video arcade, horseshoes, tennis, outdoor pool.

A huge favorite among the kids in particular is our adventure park which features a bungee jumper, mini-golf, rock climbing wall and zip-line We also have a ropes course which can cater for group/corporate team building events.

Westgate River Ranch Rodeo

I see you have a rodeo. Who’s in it and is it participatory for guests?

The live Rodeo takes place every Saturday night and is open to guests and the public alike. (Additional fee for ticket applies). It draws rodeo athletes from all over to compete in trick riding, calf roping, barrel racing and, of course, bull riding.

Plus the fun doesn’t stop once the rodeo ends! If you feel bull riding isn’t that tough, take a spin on our new Mechanical Bull. Or get your feet moving to the lively Dance Party just outside the River Ranch Saloon where you’ll hear music and games from a lively DJ to end a perfect day.

We neglected to ask about the food but, after-the-fact, found out that the Smokehouse Grill restaurant serves excellent smoked BBQ. The onsite General Store serves breakfast, salads, deli sandwiches, pizza, beverages as well as offers sundries and groceries. Future plans (sometime this year) include a renovation of the Saloon (located next to the Rodeo) to convert it to a steakhouse, bar and live music venue.

So, while this might not be the typical farm or ranch stay, there's plenty to enjoy from sunrise to sundown. In fact you can book your reservation right here right now, then head out to the ranch, jump on a horse and ride into a bit of Florida history, if only for the afternoon.

(Photo credits: Westgate River Ranch)

heydenrych-sceneHeydenrych Farms is a 130-acre farm in Canajoharie, New York, 50 miles west of Albany and a four hour drive from New York City. Farmers Magda and Andre Heydenrych moved to Canajoharie from their native South Africa in 2004, with a strong understanding of how they wanted to farm. Magda and Andre raise 100% grass-fed beef and lamb; the sheep and cattle are never given feed, unecessary antibiotics, or growth hormones. The Hydenryches also raise horses, chickens, and one special zebra named Chaka! The animals are all given the opportunity to express themselves in their natural environment. These farming practices earned Heydenrych Farm an Animal Welfare Approval and American Grassfed Certification for beef in 2009.

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In addition to the grass-fed meat, handcrafted, tallow-based soaps are also a Heydenrych Farm specialty. The soap comes in appealing varieties like "Avocado & Strawberry," "Autumn on the Farm," and "Divine Cocoa Butter Vanilla." Magda and Andre have boosted their farm's business by offering their meat and soap for sale by mail in addition to local drop offs.

Heydenrych Farm offers a farm stay in a private, 3-bedroom 1880s farmhouse that sits on its own two acres with a great mountain view. Guests have access to all the house's amenities, including a full kitchen and outdoor grill where guests can prepare the farm's own grass-fed meats and fresh-picked vegetables -- guests are welcome to pick in-season vegetables from the farm's gardens. Many guests also enjoy walking around the nearby pond and helping care for the animals, though helping with chores is optional. Magda will also teach custom soapmaking to interested guests.

Off the farm, there are miles of trails, plus canoeing, golfing, apple picking, and plenty of museums.

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Rates for the farmhouse, which sleeps up to six, are $125/night for two guests, plus $15/night for each additional guest/night. High-speed wireless internet is available for an additional charge.

For more information, visit the Farm Stay U.S. Heydenrych Farms listing or the Heydenrych Farms website.

Photos courtesy Heydenrych Farms.

Stillwaters1Stillwaters Farm, located in Henderson, Tennessee, is 131 acres replete with green pastures, shady wooded areas, small ponds, and grassy hay fields. We spoke with Valeria Pitoni about what makes Stillwaters such a special spot.

Valeria shared with us that although the farm has a "way out" feeling, due to being nestled among approximately 1,000 acres of cropland, wooded areas, and other family farms, it's actually quite close -- only 2 miles -- from the city limits of Henderson. The farm, farm stay, and their animal inhabitants live on the front 25+ acres of the property, while the rest is considered hay fields and natural habitat.Stillwaters2

This "back 100+" acreage is an excellent place for a hike or golf cart ride, and, after being assessed by a semi-local ornithologist, Valeria says they can boast a good population of birds whose species are rated as in-decline. (Bring your binoculars!) Other wildlife in the area are deer and wild turkeys in abundance, an occasional coyote, and once in a great while visitors to the farm may see a red fox, an armadillo, or even otter or bobcats.

When asked what guests typically do when they visit the farm, Valeria said, "while many of our guests arrive with a list as long as their arm, most emerge from the Cottage after a couple of days with hair sticking every which-way, coffee mug in hand, stating -- emphatically -- that they can't remember when they've rested so well!"Stillwaters3

Aside from all that wonderful rest, guests receive "critter tours" to get to know the inhabitants and landscape of the farm, any questions they have are answered, and from that point on, they decide what they'd like to do. Guests are welcome to join in whatever farm activity is happening, whether it be hay season, bringing in the crop, animal feeding and/or grooming, trimming time for horses, gardening, animal babysitting, nature hiking and photography excursions, flower collecting, and much more.

The farm occasionally hosts artist's workshops, where they prepare and paint gourds that are raised on the farm. Off farm activities can include visits to Civil War monuments, such as Shiloh National Battlefield Park, a pearl farm attraction, Casey Jones Village and Museum, a minor league baseball park, and several state parks within an hour's drive. Guests may also enjoy horseback riding, canoeing, visiting the nearby Amish community of Lawrenceburg, or attending events at the West Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The town of Henderson boasts a new day spa, only 4 miles from the farm, where guests can find services like massage, facials, manicures, and pedicures.Stillwaters4

Local food enthusiasts can make their way to the West Tennessee Farmer's Market in Jackson, where dozens of vendors sell a wide variety of produce, grass-fed meats, arts, crafts, and products from Stillwaters Farm. The farm itself also has "The Silo", their very own on-farm store featuring their handcrafted artisan soaps, soy candles, art, photography, and more.

Guests staying at Stillwaters Farm enjoy a free-standing 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,000 square foot cottage at the leading edge of the farm. It's climate-controlled with central heat and air, and it offers an outdoor lounge area with views of the diverse gardens and pastoral vistas. A private drive leads to the private parking for Cottage guests. Stillwaters6

Inside, Valeria tells us, "the Cottage is furnished in period antiques, albeit touchable antiques, along with a 1917 cast iron claw foot tub for soaking." The bedrooms are spacious and the beds have premium mattresses for guests' comfort. There is a television and DVD/VCR player, along with a small library of videos, and a stereo hidden away in the living room, but there is no satellite, cable, or Wi-Fi service. A small, but eclectic, library is maintained for guests to use.

Stillwaters5Guests self-prepare their meals, and the kitchen is outfitted with all major appliances, cookware, tableware, and flatware necessary. The Cottage is stocked with coffee, soaps, and essentials like cooking oil, salt and pepper, and spices for guests to use, and guests are encouraged to partake of the fresh, in-season produce from the farm's garden.

To learn more, we invite you to visit the Stillwaters Farm listing here on Farm Stay U.S., as well as their website and Facebook page.

(All photos courtesy Stillwaters Farm)

Wilson Ranches RetreatWilson Ranches Retreat is our featured ranch stay of the month! The ranch is a 9,000 acre cattle ranch in Fossil, Oregon, with plenty of opportunity for scenic horseback rides and cattle roundups, hiking, and scouring for prehistoric fossils. The Wilson Family has deep roots in the area and a fascinating story. Here's our interview with Nancy Wilson:

1.     The Wilson Family came to ranch in the Oregon Territories by traveling the Oregon Trail back in the 1800s. Do you know much about their trek and why they made it?

Phil and Nancy's families homesteaded in Wheeler and Gilliam Counties in the 1870's.  They travelled on the Oregon Trail in the early 1850's to the Willamette Valley before coming to North Central Oregon.

2.     What made you want to continue your families' ranching tradition?

Love of the land and Phil didn't have enough sense to leave.  Phil came home to the ranch about-history-right-side-bottom-image
after graduation from college.  This is a great life and the Blessings are many!

3.     How has ranching changed over the 150+ years your family has been ranching?

Wilson Ranches has gone from the horse-drawn age to the combustion mechanical age to the computer age.  The only aspect of ranching that has been little affected is the cattle operation.  The LE brand has been in the family for four generations.

4.     You follow a "green-friendly, twice-over" grazing program. Could you tell us how this works?

Wilson Ranches follows a "green-friendly, twice over" grazing program to increase grass production.  Each pasture is grazed, rested, and grazed again in a rotational system with multiple pastures.  Wilson Ranches is managing the resources of the ranch for future generations.

5.     What kind of experience does your ranch offer guests?

The deck at Wilson Ranches Retreat is a great place to watch the cattle or deer grazing.  The Retreat is shaded by trees, which are often alive with a variety of birds as this is a songbird migratory route.  This incredible secluded scenic area with spectacular sunsets and brilliant star-studded nights will captivate you.

welcome-right-side-bottom-imageOur guests enjoy horseback riding in a geologically and historically rich area of Wheeler County, or a quiet hike to view the wildlife and diverse plant life on Wilson Ranches.  Guests are welcome to help move cattle from mid-spring to late fall.  A 4-Wheel Drive Sunset Tour is also available.  This tour is approximately five hours and will give you a magnificent view of the Cascade Mountain Range (Three Sisters to Mt. Rainer).

6.    What do people see and do while there?

Wilson Ranches Retreat is a great place to headquarter your exploration of the Clarno, Sheep Rock and Painted Hills Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  It has the richest find of prehistoric fossils in the world.  Public fossil digging is available behind Wheeler High School in the town of Fossil.  The John Day River offers world-class small mouth bass fishing and river rafting trips.

7.     Could you describe the landscape, flora, and fauna around your ranch?

Wilson Ranches is a diverse area with an extreme mixture of geologies with formations from 50 million years ago to the present time.  Rolling hills to deep basalt canyons, high lava ridges and buttes with amazing views of the Cascade and Blue Mountain Ranges.  The landscape is covered with wild flowers in the spring and early summer.

8.    What's the climate like? about-main-top-image

The climate is semi-arid with an annual average rainfall from 12 to 16 inches per year.  Temperatures in the winter are usually mild but can go as low as 15 degrees below zero for short  periods of time.  Summer temperatures vary from 70 to 100 degrees.

9.     What's on your breakfast menu?

Breakfast is served family style each morning at 8:00 am with the Wilson Family sharing their experience of life on the ranch and interesting and entertaining stories by Phil.  The breakfast menu includes bacon (sausage, ham or beef little smokies), farm fresh eggs, biscuits (blueberry muffins, coffee cake or German pancakes), fruit, and Bob's Red Mill oatmeal with all the fixin's (pecans, brown sugar, raisins and craisins).

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For more information on Wilson Ranches Retreat, visit their Farm Stay U.S. listing and their website. All photos on this blog are courtesy Wilson Ranches Retreat.

Draper Girls Country Farm, set at the base of Oregon's majestic Mt. Hood about an hour from Portland, is a 3rd generation fruit farm with a U-pick orchard, a farm stand, a small petting zoo, and a four-bedroom country cottage guesthouse.

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Roman Braun founded the family farm in 1962. Now his daughter Theresa and her three daughters, Rachel, Crystal, and Stefanie, run the farm. When I asked Theresa why she chose to take over her father's farm, she says, "I can't really describe why. I think it's in my blood. I always loved the farm ... if you love farming, it's just something you want to do."

The farm is 40 acres, with 15 acres of apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and berries that visitors can pick themselves. Theresa says that the sweet and juicy peaches, plums, and nectarines are her favorites - she especially recommends Red Haven peaches. She also loves their apples, the crop for which the farm is most well known. Theresa describes her favorite variety honeycrisp as "really crispy, and just the right amount of sweet and tart."

Draper Girls Farm is also known as one of Oregon's few remaining licensed producers of non-pasteurized, unfiltered ciders. The farm offers apple, pear, and cherry cider, as well as delicious blends like cherry-apple, pear-apple, and the new raspberry-apple. Non-pasteurized cider has a fuller, richer flavor than pasteurized cider. Theresa says that drinking raw cider is almost like eating an apple or a handful of cherries, but with even more flavor. Unpasteurized ciders can start to ferment much sooner than pasteurized ciders, but the farm follows strict licensing and monitoring procedures to maintain its quality and shelf life.

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For visitors who have a full day or week to spend in the area, Draper Girls Farm is a stop along the Hood River County "Fruit Loop", a driving tour with dozens of stops at orchards, wineries, lavender farms, and even a chestnut farm and an alpaca farm.

In addition to fruit, Roman Braun had always raised sheep. Theresa and her daughters added goats, mini-goats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, and geese. The Draper Girls sell their grass-fed goat and lamb meat at farmers markets and at their onsite farm stand.

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Theresa has grown the farm through a rise in direct to consumer sales. She started the U-pick operation, her favorite way to sell produce. Theresa says, "The U-pick is really fun. People from the city get a feel for how we grow things, and they bring their kids to run around. Our yard has flowers all over it, we have a great big swing, and we have an old tractor that kids like to sit on for photos. We love that visitors feel at home when they visit our farm."

In Roman Braun's time, says Theresa, there were no farmers markets, and all their sheep were sold at auction. People came by the farm to buy large boxes of fruit for canning and drying, but direct-to-consumer sales were not a major part of the business.

In 2007, Theresa decided to add a farm stay. She invited guests to rent the little farmhouse where she lived as a child and where she raised her own children.

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Farm guests are invited to feed the animals, pick fruit, roam the farm, and participate in farm activities throughout the year. Venturing off the farm, they can tour the Fruit Loop, taste wine, visit the City of Hood River or Mt. Hood, and hike, bike, and wind surf, among many other activities

Though many people wouldn't think to visit a fruit farm in the winter or early spring, Theresa says it is a neat time of year on the farm. To growers it is called 'frost season,' and it is a vital time for ensuring that fruit trees yield a viable crop. During nightly freezes, the Drapers save their crops by running wind machines and overhead sprinklers that form droplets on the trees and their buds. The droplets, as they freeze, release heat and once frozen also provide essential insulation from the cold and wind.

Theresa says that the farmhouse has everything guests could want. She explains that she and her daughters fixed it up with bright cheerful colors. It has a fireplace, lots of antiques, and a big farm table where families can gather. The house is casual, not fancy, and family friendly. According to Theresa, "People who stay there really like it!"

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For more information about visiting Draper Girls Country Farm, check out their Farm Stay U.S. listing or their farm website. The Draper Girls cottage has four bedrooms and two baths and rents for $150 to $275/night.

All photos in this blog courtesy Draper Girls Country Farm.

Karen Searle, Owner/Manager of Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations, has the impressive distinction of creating one of the first agritourism cooperatives in the United States. Today Montana Bunkhouses includes 20 authentic ranch vacations spread across Montana's remarkable landscape. Karen plays matchmaker between ranches and guests, and aims to give great personal thought and attention to pointing guests to their ideal ranch vacation.

Farm Stay U.S. recently had the pleasure of asking Karen about her organization, ranching in Montana, all of the great press Montana Bunkhouses has received, and more. We're excited to share her answers here. Photo credits for all the photos in this blog go to Montana Bunkhouses.

1. Montana Bunkhouses is a group of 20 working guest ranches that have teamed up to  offer guests a great selection of authentic cowboy experiences. How and why did the group form?

Families who want to pass their ranches down to the next generation are under increasing economic pressure to sell out. To give ranchers another option, I formed an agritourism cooperative, modeled after the European Farm Holiday program. The supplementary income each host ranch receives will hopefully help future generations to sustain their ranching way of life. We are able to offer a variety of authentic cowboy experiences, because that is exactly what we are, authentic. Ranching is a labor of love; we do not ranch because it is easy, we ranch because it is who we are. Montana Bunkhouses provides a gateway for others to share and understand our disappearing way of life.

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2. What kinds of experience do your guest ranches offer? You act as a matchmaker between guests and ranches: how do you know which ranch is the best for for a particular guest?

I am a native Montanan with ranching roots and I guess you could say I'm a travel coordinator and matchmaker. I know these ranchers personally, they are my friends and neighbors, and I understand what makes each of them unique. I devote myself to getting to know guests as well, not just as potential customers, but also as friends. Developing personal connections with our guests means I am able to match them to a ranch not just based on their interests, but also based on their personalities. My goal is to match guests with a ranch that will give them the authentic ranching experience, with emphasis on the areas they find most interesting, and introduce them to people who will become "family" during their visit.

3. There's a cluster of your ranches concentrated east of Bozeman and west of Billings. What's special about that area?

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The idea for Montana Bunkhouse Working Ranch Vacations started where I live in southwestern Montana, and the participating ranches now stretch border to border -- each in dramatic landscapes -- across the entire state. It is a great benefit for our guests that the area with the highest concentration of ranches is within the distance of a day's excursion to Yellowstone National Park.

4. What sets Montana ranch vacations apart from ranch vacations elsewhere in the U.S.?

"Saddle Up" and experience a part of the Old West that still exists.  We love sharing the ranching way of life and what comes with it.  With over twenty Montana Cattle Ranches hosting guests, we offer a wide range of choices. Working ranch vacations offer more than just head to tail horseback riding. Guests participate in seasonal ranch activities while learning about conservation practices and sustainable ranching in the Rocky Mountains. It is traditional for ranch families to get together during brandings or roundups or cattle drives and they welcome guests to join them. Guests enjoy the camaraderie and appreciate the skill involved in the roping and wrangling. Springtime in the Rockies brings the perfect combination of nature and nurture. During calving and lambing guests can make a difference -- watching expecting mothers, reading the weather, and lending a hand in preserving new life. Something vital fills each and every day.

5. What's your background? How did you end up with such an unusual and fascinating job?

Ranching is in my blood. I grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch in southwestern Montana, and am sympathetic to the challenges of the family farm. I am the galvanizing force behind the agritourism cooperative. I was credited by a former director of Cooperation Works, a national center for cooperative business development, for having put together the first agritourism cooperative of cattle ranches in the United States. The co-op was formed after I was selected as a representative to the 2002 World Congress on Rural Women and Rural Issues in Spain. I see agritourism as a way to help preserve family ranches and to narrow the divide between ranch and city dwellers on land use and wildlife issues. Those objectives have put Montana Bunkhouses on the forefront of a trend in the travel industry labeled "geotourism," travel that sustains or enhances the character of a place, helping to preserve its heritage, habitats and scenic beauty.

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6. Is there a 'typical guest' that you work with? What kind of folks crave a Montana working ranch vacation, and what are they looking to do during their stay?

Why do guests come?  Montana is a place where myth has long been in partnership with reality. The kinds of folks who find me on the internet are searching for "working ranch vacations." They are not interested in simply traveling to another destination, they are seeking a life changing experience. Whether they are looking to connect with their roots, or reconnect with their family members, or establish a connection with our ranching way of life, it is all here. We offer the opportunity for them to share the ranching way of life with people who are tied by birth or choice to a part of America that to some feels like the country's soul!

With our working ranch vacations, everything on-ranch is included: comfortable lodging, hearty family style meals and seasonal ranch activities. Rates vary from $1500 to $1900 per week depending on the ranch and the hands-on experience they offer.

7. Your group has gotten a lot of good press! Do you have a favorite article (or two) that you want to share with our readers?

Yes, we have gotten a lot of good press as you can see if you go to our Montana Bunkhouses News Page. The USDA/Rural Developments folks told our story in their national Rural Cooperatives magazine. We've been featured in newspapers in places a far-flung as New York, Chicago, and Sidney, Australia. Respected travel magazines including Condé Nast Traveler and Sunset Magazine have celebrated our unique vacations, as well as journalists in China, Taiwan, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom. But the one that I'm the most proud of - my favorite, hands down - is being selected for the National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide of the Greater Yellowstone area. Anyone who visits Montana will want to have this map in their back pocket. You can order a free copy of the map from our website, www.montanaworkingranches.com. We are the only Montana ranch vacations to have met National Geographic's criteria for authenticity of experience, culture and heritage. We're proud of that.

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8. What has changed for the ranches since your group formed? What changes do you foresee in the future?

Change is measured in generations in Montana. Our agritourism cooperative is just starting its second decade, so we can only speculate what the longer term impact will be for the ranchers down the line.  Already, the diversified income from agritourism has provided everything from money to remodel a kitchen right on down to the money necessary to make the next ranch loan payment. In some cases it means the difference on whether the ranch family's son or daughter can return home so they can carry the ranching traditions on to the next generation. But the benefit is not just measured in dollars and cents. We enjoy sharing our way of life. It jogs us off-center so we don't simply take for granted what we've been born to do because we see our ranching world through our guest's eyes and it brings us joy.

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To contact Karen, send an email to karen@montanabunkhouses.com, call 406-223-6101, or visit Montana Bunkhouses Farm Stay U.S. page. Karen likes to warn potential guests with a wink: "Caution!  Working Ranch Vacations may be habit forming."

Thanks to Montana Bunkhouse Ranches for the use of the photos in this blog.

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dunes-and-mountains-fsImagine riding on horseback alongside grazing buffalo, with pristine sand dunes ahead and a skyline of snowcapped, 14,000-ft mountains rising high behind the dunes.

Sounds unbelievable, but at Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado, it's day-to-day reality.

Zapata Ranch is set on 103,000 acres bordering Great Sand Dunes National Park. "Western Horseman" magazine calls the area "one of the world's most spectacular and diverse landscapes." The ranch is owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed by the Duke and Janet Phillips family. Over three generations of ranching history has allowed the Phillips to hone their style of land stewardship and ranching in harmony with nature. Ranching here is practiced with conservation always in mind.

Bison-Clouds-Mountains-farmWith 2,500 bison, Zapata Ranch's herd is one of the largest conservation herds in the world. Two thousand are managed as a wild herd that is only gathered once a year from a 50,000 acre pasture where they roam free.

The ranch's 300-1000 cattle are managed using a system of intense rotational grazing, which means lots of animals on a relatively small pasture for a short period of time. The cattle are used to conserve the open prairie, as they eat foliage, turn over ground with their hooves, and are moved to new pasture once they've finished, giving the pasture enough time to rest and re-grow before being grazed again. The pace of the rotation is planned with keen attention to the rain, moisture, and pasture quality.

Herds of wild elk and antelope roam the land freely, sharing pasture with the bison and the cattle.

Guests come for the amazing natural beauty and because they crave a true ranch experience where they can be a part of the rhythm of life on a vast working bison and cattle ranch. Three main guest programs are available: The Horsemanship Experience, Ranching With Nature, and Great Outdoors Exploration.

cowgirls-fsDepending on the season and each visitor's preferences, guests might spend a day rounding up cattle or fixing fencing, hiking or riding on an interpretive nature trail, or improving their horsemanship skills. After all this, guests enjoy a dinner of grass-fed bison or beef from the ranch, with local produce prepared by skilled chef Mike Rosenburg, who once served as personal chef to the Carnegies.

Zapata Ranch can host 25 guests at a time (or up to 30 for families), which allows guests to enjoy activities specifically tailored to their particular needs and interests.

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Zapata Ranch offers not only natural beauty and conservation-based ranching, but also creature comforts not typically associated with working ranches, including elegant rustic décor and a hot tub with a sand dunes view. There are three separate lodging facilities: the Zapata Inn, which served as the original homestead when the ranch was settled in the 1800s, the Stewart House, with full kitchen, pool table, living room and fireplace, and the bunkhouses. A spacious, converted old barn also serves as an education and meeting center.

Off-site activities include fishing, hiking, and whitewater rafting.

The Philips love sharing the incredible property and lifestyle with guests, and the inn provides an important supplement to the ranch business - one that, unlike ranching with nature, is less affected by climate.

Flying H Ranch, home of Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch, is a 700 acres cattle and horse ranch in the verdant Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Owners C. and Sonny Huff offer horseback riding and cowboy vacations with options for every guest -- from relaxation to high adventure. Guests stay in a secluded 3-bedroom lodge or 2-bedroom cabin.

wild rideBucks and Spurs is one of our featured farms of the month, and their guest testimonials agree that it's a pretty special place. We were fortunate enough to interview C. and Sonny, and get the inside scoop on their ranch and natural horsemanship program. Here's the interview.

1. Could you tell us a bit about your ranch? What's it like there?

C. & Sonny: We hope you will read the blogs on our web site as they have a lot of descriptions from guests. The ranch is a working facility with Angus cattle and horses. It borders the Big Beaver Creek that offers great fishing and floating options. The terrain is rocky with bluffs, cannons, and meadow and open fields.

2. What kinds of experiences do you offer your guests?

C. & Sonny: We offer a lot of riding -- relaxing trail rides and adventurous wilderness rides. We ride through the cattle herd for health checks and move them to fresh pasture. We book stays for the novice rider right up to those very experienced horse trainers. We also offer our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program for those that express interest.

3. You pride yourselves in your Natural Horsemanship Program. What's natural horsemanship?

C. & Sonny: Our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program teaches communication skills andoffers the horse a chance to respond to the slightest signal.

Riding the open fields4. What do participants learn and do?

C. & Sonny: Participants from the beginner to advanced horse handler learn to be light-handed using reins and bit last and both have a chance to earn friendship and respect.

5. How did you develop the Natural Horsemanship Program? How did you learn to be a 'Horse Whisperer'?

C. & Sonny:C. grow up in a horse-loving family and just always had a very natural way with horses. We began studying Monty Roberts and realized that what C. was doing with his own horses was called Natural Horsemanship. Then we included in our research and study some John Lyons, Pat Parelli, Clinton Anderson Larry Trocha and others while developing our own Flying H Natural Horsemanship Program that has been approved by some colleges for Equine Internship Credits.

6. What's special and different about Missouri Fox Trotter horses?

C. & Sonny: Stamina and the Fox Trotting Gait offers a smooth ride and they are so versatile, we use them as our ranch horses for cattle drives, cutting, roping, sorting and penning.

7. Could you tell us about the Angus cattle you raise?

C. & Sonny: They are the BEST. We have improved our herd with embryo transfers and an AI program. We sold our first Embryos this year. Our goal is to have bulls and females in the top 5% of the Black Angus breed for the major traits related to performance, maternal and carcass EPDs. We are excited about our adventure into the Angus business. We feel that this exciting opportunity will further our commitment toward producing the right kind of cattle that meet with our customers demands. We hand-selected every female in our Angus program from the breed's most proven and progressive Angus operations. We feel fortunate that many of the Angus breed's most popular and high-dollar generating females are now home at Flying H Ranch, home of DHT Angus and Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch.

Driving Catte to fresh pasture8. You've been in ranching for many years ... what's changed about cattle and horse ranching, and what's stayed the same?

C. & Sonny: C. grow up farming and ranching near our present ranch. Sonny was new to the business ... 40 years ago. Technological advancements have allowed us an astonishing ability to track herd quality. The long hours and hard work required to run livestock hasn't changed and neither has Mother Nature!

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For more information on Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch, check out their Farm Stay U.S. listing and their website http://www.bucksandspurs.com/