Back in my grandparents’ day, farmwives and daughters were in charge of the household and helped out on the farm when needed.
Few would have been considered in charge.
But today women really are becoming part of the norm of farm management teams. We are very much accepted and respected, although it takes some work.
Like most young people when I started in the industry, I was not taken seriously. I had to earn respect. Beginners, regardless of gender, have to work hard to prove their worth.
I can give you dozens of examples of me being treated favorably or poorly because I was a woman. More often than not, I had to prove my knowledge and skills twice as much as a man before I was considered an equal. You can say it’s unfair, but life is unfair. I’m sure I sound like your mother – but it is the truth.
One of my first realizations of this came at a young age. I was still in high school and had just started my own herd of cows within my parents’ herd.
My dad and I were talking with a semen salesman about what bulls to use to breed my cows. Throughout the conversation, he kept looking at my dad and asking him what he thought. Finally, my dad said, “I don’t know. Ask her; they’re her cows.”
Since then the salesman has become a good friend of mine, but it took some getting used to on his end. He said he had never worked with a woman who had the final say in what bulls were being used on a farm.
For me it becomes a challenge to prove to someone I am just as smart as the next 25-year-old man who’s on the farm.
I think the need to challenge the norm is an important trait for a woman getting into agriculture. It will drive and motivate you to always do better, work harder and to be smarter.
This drive will separate you from the pack and show you are more of an asset than the next salesperson to walk on the farm.
I am just as smart as a man, but my mom and I are not feminists. We have no issue admitting the farm would not run without some men around. I’ve always had green-bean-looking arms and think I always will. Sadly, even if they get bigger, they will not be muscular.
I am a woman not afraid to admit that I am not as physically strong as a man, and I will always need their help in certain situations. I am thankful men are stronger than I am because there are some jobs I just cannot do.
Although there are always struggles, I love being in my career field. There is always that element of surprise when I meet someone new and find I have to prove I do know what I’m talking about.
Often, as a woman, I am met with a perception that I am not one of the bosses. They think I’m the boss’ daughter or just another employee. It is a reality of being in this business: Often women are not the bosses.
Honestly, this fact actually comes in handy when I am having a busy day on the farm and an unwelcome visitor stops by. I can continue with my work uninterrupted while they walk around looking for my dad.
I personally believe more women should be the boss, but it does not always happen. Too often we tend to get busy with housework and kids or an off-the-farm job to do a stellar job out in the barn as well.
Really, women have several innate dairy advantages over most men. One of them being that we are, in general, much more nurturing and in tune to the animals.
We notice a lot of subtle things that a lot of others will miss. Most of the men on our farm hate feeding calves, and they say it is because the job is so detailed and they have to be very observant of the calves.
Calves need a nurturing person to take care of them because we all know a sick calf takes a lot of work. For most women, that is something we’re born with. We have the natural ability to notice these things and give them the attention they need.
Although women have always had a place on family farms, their role is changing from generations past. We are going from more of a support role and moving into higher management positions and even ownership.
Just like in other professions, we are a new norm, and we’re not going anywhere. I love going to meetings and seeing just as many women in the room as men. It makes me realize how far we have come and where we will continue to go in the future. PD
Ashley R. Messing
Bad Axe, Michigan