I am often asked about my journey as a woman in the beef industry. For all of the young women who have asked me for advice on the topic –This one’s for you…
5 Nuggets of Advice from the Feed Yard Boss Lady:
1. Be prepared to develop yourself and learn to problem solve. The complexities and traditions of the beef industry provide a delicate puzzle. Change is a given. It is your job to ensure that it is positive in nature.
- Establish personal core values to live by
- Gain an accurate understanding of the beef production chain
- Create both long and short term goals to guide you on your journey
- Develop plans to effectively work toward your goals
- Recognize that you can learn something from EVERYONE
2. Be prepared to prove yourself. True leaders garner respect through work ethic and positive passion. Lead by example — Words only become meaningful after respect is earned. There are days when your body will ache and your brain will beg for refuge. Ignore the discomfort and keep working. You must earn your place on the team. Everyone may not always like you, but over time your actions will convince them that they NEED you. Once they need you, acceptance and respect will follow.
Learn to sweat with a smile 😊
3. Be prepared to deal with awkward moments — Do it with grace and class.
- There may be a time when a bull hauler (truck driver) exclaims “Hey, I’ve read about you. You’re the crazy lady who exercises her cattle! What’s it like to work for PETA?” Smile, politely correct the PETA assumption, and go load the cattle. The goal is to create the best experience for the animals — keep your temper in check. Trust me, it’s worth it.
- There may be a time when you are in an auditorium with hundreds of cattlemen present. You are slated to present an award to a veterinarian who exemplifies many of the animal welfare principles that you have worked so hard to advance. As the President of the cattlemen’s organization introduces you, he inadvertently belittles you by calling you a princess and misrepresents the project that you have spent a decade as a volunteer working on. Smile, shake his hand, turn to the audience and tell the veterinarian’s awesome story of animal care.
Recognize that IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU. It is about fostering positive change in your industry.
4. Be prepared that not everyone thinks like you. Your job is to build bridges, not pass judgment. Building bridges requires both action and compromise on your part. We are stronger if we embrace diversity and use it to create a more effective team. Figure out your own Anne Gates and go to work!
As a woman in the beef industry, you will have experiences that your male counterparts cannot fully understand. That’s okay.
- It’s unlikely that a fellow male crew member knows what it feels like to work cattle during pregnancy when the little one crams her foot in between your ribs while also making your bladder a temporary punching bag. However, your crew is your team and they will likely do everything that they can to help you get the job done. They do not have to be you to empathize and care about you. Be grateful for them.
- It’s unlikely that a fellow board member for your state cattlemen’s association will receive an “emergency” call informing him that his children had not been picked up from school that afternoon. While he won’t likely get the call, he can surely empathize with your husband who evidently forgot he was in charge of the after school pick up that day!
Building bridges creates a team spirit which incites positive movement.
5. Be prepared to make difficult decisions as you balance your family and your career. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything — You will have to prioritize. After the cattle chores, the daily business decisions, and the volunteer work are completed, there is dinner to be made and the never ending laundry to be done. Most importantly, there is a beautiful family that loves and needs you.
Be a loving wife and an engaged mama — celebrate your greatest blessing by enjoying life with your family.
The last twenty years have been an incredible adventure for me as well as a great preparation for the new journey that lies ahead. I have no regrets and many proud moments. It is truly a gift to get to use both your body and your brain to make a difference each and every day.
Cattle are amazing creatures and there is great honor in the role of cowgirl.