Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ranch Diaries: What life's like as a female rancher

Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

Someone recently asked me what it’s like to be a woman on a ranch. After mulling over that question in the context of a decade spent in this industry, I thought I would share my responses with you all:  I have more know-how than some men and less than others. Like many professions ranching has historically been a male-dominated field, but that’s changing. At the Quivira Conference last week I was thrilled to see an equal number of women in the audience, including young women with impressive qualifications and diverse experiences seeking more meaningful work on the land.

Being a woman rancher has made me value the ability to do multiple things, from mending jeans to doctoring a cow for pinkeye. Women have long been expected to balance domestic and ranch duties, without getting recognition for the economic value in such diverse skill sets. The two-for-the-price-of-one notion of hiring the cowboy and getting his wife’s help for free is becoming obsolete as women realize their own value.

Yes, I’ve experienced criticism and disparaging remarks about being a female rancher. Someone told me women ruin horses by spoiling them; a man driving through my yard loudly asked his buddy, “is that a man or a woman?” confused by my short haircut; after helping my husband on a ranch where he’d day worked before, the single check we received reflected a pay cut for him. It stings to feel inferior, and succumbing to that myth is what has kept me from being my best self. I’ll never forget the morning I was having a tough time catching a mare, and an older cowboy offered to finish the job. Instead of saying no thanks, I let his criticism of my skills effect my performance, and I caved to what I thought at the time was his superior ranch experience. He was the same man who told me women ruin horses. But my five-year-old bay, Hoot, is one of the best ranch horses we have: I’ve been handling him since he was two months old, was the first person on his back, and only after 30 rides did I turn him over to Sam.

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