Statistics are changing, no secret there. Our industry changes by the year, cattle prices go up and down, conservation programs come and go, breed trends change and let’s not get into the weather. One trend that isn’t usually highlighted is the change in the demographics of leadership present on ranches. The roles of women on the farm or ranch were usually running parts, cooking, child care or record keeper, but now, more than in the past, women’s roles have evolved into decision makers, cow hands, truck drivers, and herbicide applicators.
As girls, we grew up in the pens with our dads, brothers, uncles and grandfathers with the belief that we would go off to school and become something else. Ranching is a traditionally, male dominated industry and for years most girls never imagined they would grow to manage their own ranching operations.
This recent increase of women in agricultural operations could be caused by a number of things, including interest, inheritance, education, or labor costs. Regardless of how it happened it is now documented in the 2017 census that women running farms and ranches increased 27% since 2012. To put it in perspective, 1.23 million farmers or ranchers in America are women, equating to 36% of the ranching population. In addition to women working the land themselves, the census also stated that 56% of ranches or farms had women as the primary or secondary decision makers.
Most women in agriculture recognize there are things that are different for them. Hiring men to work in their employment and creating professional relationships present unique challenges, but they are met head on by determined women. When asked about her experience, Terry Daniel, manager at the Buck Daniel Ranch, said, “I feel all these earlier local women may have had to deal with much more bias in a male dominated world of bankers, realtors and cattle buyers. My dealings now are easier because they broke a lot of barriers and proved their worth. Even if people might not be totally sold on the idea of a solo ranching woman, they are more apt to give me a shot because of them.”
Stephanie Pelaez, owner and operator of Pelaez and Sons Ranch in Okeechobee, Florida, said women “solve problems from different perspectives,” and that their traditional role as caretakers inclines them to be compassionate and patient towards their cattle and their land.
The increased presence of women leaders in the ranching industry is not lost on those in the field, “…my livestock extension agent is a woman, my feed rep is a woman, my banker, for many years was a woman, my SFWMD [South Florida Water Management District] contact has been a woman and my Florida Department of Ag[riculture] and Consumer Services representative is a woman,” said Terry Daniel. “As a father of two women in ranching, I am impressed with the resilience and passion they express while following in their heritage of a ranching lifestyle” says Matt Pearce, President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. Student demographics in the University of Florida Animal Science Department indicate that these trail blazing women have certainly made an impact. According to Allyson Trimble, University of Florida Department of Animal Science Undergraduate Academic Advisor, the ratio of females to males enrolled in the program is approximately 6:1.