As the oldest child of a farmer, I was the hired hand from the time I was 9 years old. From the time I was 11, I put in the same days as my dad did. It didn't matter that I was a girl. What mattered was that I could drive a tractor, back up the rockpicker, feed sheep, pull lambs, pitch haybales. It didn't occur to me that other families weren't like that. That a lot of men in this world didn't think girls could do that stuff.
I remember when Dad decided to sell our commercial sheep flock, I was 16. We had kept our purebred Suffolk and Polypay herds, but sold the 500 or so commercial ewes. A man came to look at them and Dad happened to be in town for parts. I offered to take him to the corrals and to answer any questions he might have. He said, "No thanks, I'll just wait for your dad." So we did. Dad came home a half hour later and the man asked, "What was your lambing percentage last year?" Dad looked at me and said, "I'm not sure. What WAS our lambing percentage?" I answered that and more of the buyer's questions.
My dad, brother and I were building a handling system for our feeder calves and we needed more railroad ties for the fences. I was sent to town to buy a dozen of them from the local lumberyard at lunch time. When I got there, I was told, "Oh, Randy just left for lunch. We can't load them until he gets back." I asked her if I could load them. "Oh my, not a girl like you!" I looked her right in the eye and said, "Just who do you think is going to UN-load them when I get home?"
From the time I was in 3rd grade until I was a sophomore in college, I wanted to be a veterinarian. A large animal veterinarian. Often, when people would hear my life goal, they would say "Oh, you must like puppies and kitties." Ummmm, no. I like cows and sheep and goats and pigs.
In college, I spent a week in Colorado at a Christian retreat. Our group had two large vans, one with a trailer on the back for luggage. At a stop somewhere in Nebraska, the van with the trailer was blocked in from the front and needed to be backed out so we could go. At least 10 different young men in our group tried to back that thing up and only managed to get it jack-knifed. Finally, I had had enough of this and calmly said to the one in the driver's seat, "Let me give it a try." "YOU?? I think I can do it." "No, really, let me do it." What he didn't know is that growing up on a farm, you have back up with a lot of stuff, sometimes with stuff like rockpickers that are on an off-set hitch. Or trailers loaded with cattle. In less than a minute, we were straightened out and on the road.
Instead of becoming a veterinarian, I became a science teacher (how THAT happened is a story in and of itself). And I coached girls basketball, boys basketball and girls track. I loved basketball and I was a good coach. I loved working with junior high kids! But you would not believe how many basketball dads offered to come to practice to "help" me, show me some drills, offer to sit on the bench and help me coach. Ummmm, no thank you. We'll be just fine.
One father even went so far as to tell me that my motion offense was too difficult for his daughter's A team and I should consider some of the plays he had kindly written down for me. I looked him right in the eye and said, "My C team ran that offense last year as their stall offense. I think your daughter can handle it, if she wants to."
When I left teaching for the corporate world, I left a lot of that behind me. Our company had a number of women in key leadership positions who served as excellent mentors and role models for me.
This spring, it happened again. I was at an organic farming conference. The session I wanted to attend didn't start for a while but I thought I'd get there early and get a good seat. Plus, I'd just bought some new books and wanted to check them out. So I settled in with 15 or so other people, 3 other women and a dozen or so men. A few more people added to our number. Then a man came in wearing a denim shirt and a bright yellow sign across his shoulders that read "Wanted: Grass-fed Beef, Lamb, Pork". He was a buyer and was hoping to attract some producers to grow for his company. As I watched him, he went to the front of the room with a stack of matching bright yellow postcards. He proceeded to walk around the room and hand a postcard to every man in the room. None of us women received a postcard!
I don't know how it is on your farm, but here at Morning Joy Farm, I'm the one who handles sales. If you want our product, you go through me. And by not handing me your card, you lost yourself not just one producer. You lost yourself a lot of producers because I wasn't the only woman who didn't get a card and I wasn't the only woman who knows the name of your company.
Three weeks ago, we went up north to buy 5 Katahdin wether lambs (castrated males) to grass feed all summer and butcher this fall. As I've said before, Hubby knows a lot about grass and feeding chickens/turkeys but he's learning about other livestock. He was there to do the driving and heavy lifting, I was there to pick out good lambs. I spent 11 years as a competitive livestock judger and was even a state champion. But a lot of that I need to un-learn when it comes to grass based livestock selection.
As I started working through the lambs, the son of the owner was there to help us. He told us that we could pick from any lambs that did not have an ear tag. I saw a really nice black lamb, had all the characteristics for doing well on grass. I said, "Oh, there a nice one! Shucks, it has an ear tag!" The son said, "Oh, those black ones are cute. Do you want a black one? There might be another one." I so badly wanted to have a smart remark, like: Listen here buddy, I don't care if they're purple with pink polka dots. I don't eat their hair. I want a lamb that will do well on grass and taste good! But I didn't, just kept my mouth shut and worked through the lambs again. We ended up with 5 pretty nice lambs and they are doing very well on our grass.
I don't think I look like a bimbo...do I?? I don't toss my hair, giggle, bat my eyelashes. I think I converse in a semi-intelligent manner. Why is it that some men won't take a woman and her skills seriously? I am so thankful that I married a man who not only takes me seriously, but encourages me to keep doing these things. And trusts me to make decisions when it comes to something I have more experience with.
Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist, but I tend to assume you know what you're doing until you prove you're an idiot. Not the other way around...