Wanted: cowmonks

A monastery that once ran one of the largest ranching operations in North Dakota is planning to stop raising cattle.


A Roman Catholic monastery in western North Dakota is ending a century-old practice of raising cattle because of a lack of monks with cowboy skills.

The Assumption Abbey in Richardton intends to sell its herd of about 260 cows and rent pastures to other ranchers, monastery officials told the Dickinson Press.

Brother Placid Gross, 76, has tended cattle at the monastery for 51 years. He and another monk look after the cows, but Abbot Brian Wangler said the monk helping Gross is a greenhorn and can’t operate independently.

“There is a lot to know if you are going to raise cattle,” Wangler said. “It is not a simple thing and it takes years and years of learning.”

Gross said he won’t miss the hard work but will miss the cows.

“It is sad to see it happening,” he said. “It was nice to look out the window and see our own cattle grazing.”

Gross said the abbey once had one of the biggest ranching operations in the region and he remembers the days of raking hay with a team of horses. He said it’s been difficult for the abbey to keep up with new ranching technology and there isn’t enough help.

Wangler said ranching has been part of the monastery since 1893 when it was located in Devil’s Lake, and raising cattle helped the monastery remain self-sufficient.

“It was a living,” Wangler said. “You could milk a cow and drink it, slaughter a cow and eat it.”

Read more.

And you can visit the monastery’s website for more information about the work they do.  They also offer private retreats in what appears to be a beautiful corner of the world.

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3 responses to “Wanted: cowmonks”

  1. It’s a shame that such a great tradition has to come to an end. Hopefully the rent money from the other ranchers using their land for cattle grazing, will allow the monastery to remain open.

  2. Greg:

    Thanks for restoring your comment pages.

    This post brings back some very personal memories. My diaconal formation was at a seminary which was run by a religious order. The seminary was on a large Ohio farm and four religious-brothers were the farmers/farm-managers. During the times I had free, I would often take long walks and saw not only the livestock but also the fields full of whatever grain they needed both for livestock feed and for a “cash crop.”

    I have been to North Dakota but never to Richardton — much less Assumption Abbey. I only wish the very best of the Rosen Lord’s blessing on all of those monks!

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