Women Take Reins in Ranching
By John Meng, Managing Editor The face of Texas agriculture may be changing. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Texas leads the nation with 248,416 farms and ranches. Women made up 37 percent of the 408,506 producers in Texas, and the number of female producers increased 69 percent compared to 2012.
The 2017 census showed a huge increase in the number of women who are farming and ranching. From 2012 to 2017, the census recorded an increase of more than 18,000 women in farming and ranching, while the male farmers and ranchers increased by only 5,000.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revealed that female farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers out-earned their male counterparts in 2017.
In addition, many women in agriculture are active advocates and leaders. A recent American Farm Bureau Federation survey revealed 75 percent of female respondents are leaders at the local level, 50 percent are leaders at the state level and 26 percent are leaders at the national level.
Lacy Bayer of Inez is one of those women in a leadership role. In addition to working as manager at United Ag in Edna, she serves as president of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau. Yet, she still finds time to tend her small herd of cows.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in California and both of my parents grew up on dairy farms as well,” said Bayer. “I’ve always had cows. Agriculture has always been part of my life.”
Bayer said that she bought her first cows three years ago. She started with three heifers and a bull which was loaned to her by her father-in-law.
“Now, I have 10 cows and one bull of my own and a bunch of babies on the ground,” she said.
But her years of growing up on a dairy farm did not really prepare her for raising beef cattle.
“Dairy farming and raising cattle for beef is like night and day. Dairy operations require lots of help, lots of logistics and lots of money. My small beef cattle operation is my answer to having cows.
“My cows are pretty low maintenance because I have a small operation and they are at my house which is really the only way I can make it work with my full-time job and other commitments,” added Bayer. “But I check them every day, make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, nothing is injured, and everything seems healthy.”
When asked about the growing number of women owning ranches, Bayer suggests that women have always played a significant role in agriculture.
“I think women have always been involved in agriculture but I guess it’s typically been on a wife basis. They were always the farmer’s wife, the rancher’s wife or the dairy man’s wife. But I think more women feel like they can do it on their own,” she said. “So more women are having farms and ranches on their own or with a spouse but taking on a more significant role.”
Bayer believes that, regardless of gender, choosing to raise cattle is not an easy choice and it is an expensive route as the rancher needs land or leases and, of course, to buy cattle. But either gender can choose to do it the same way.
“For women who want to get into raising cattle or agriculture in general, they should not be scared and not think their gender is going to hinder them, or hurt them or make it any harder to do. It just takes a little education, research and hard work.
“For me, raising cattle is part of my life,” added Bayer. “Agriculture in my blood and it’s something I hope to pass on to my daughter. At two-years-old, she’s with me every step of the way when we do anything with the cows.”
Lindsey Lee of Edna has loved cattle all of her life. Even at the young age of three, Lee would ride around with her grandmother, Kathryn Lee, while she checked cattle. She attributes those fond experiences with her grandmother as to where she began to develop her love for ranching.
Today, Lee runs a family-owned cattle operation with about 160 head of mature cattle. She is also a full-time real estate agent at Twin Rivers Real Estate in Edna, serves as treasurer of the Jackson County Cattle Raisers Association, and she was the first-ever female president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau. In 2015, she was named Jackson County Rancher of the Year.
“In my family, I’m the sixth generation rancher in Jackson County,” said Lee. “It’s just something I fell in love with at a young age and I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Lee, who also serves as a state director for the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, commented on the increasing number of women working in agriculture as well as taking on leadership roles.
“You’re definitely seeing more women in the ag-related organizations,” she said. “There are a lot of active women who work with cattle along with their husbands but there are also women doing it on their own.”
According to Lee, cattle ranching is not an occupation that people choose for wealth, but rather it’s a special calling.
“You’re never going to get extremely wealthy from running cattle,” said Lee. “It’s a type of love. For me, it’s worth all the hard work. It definitely becomes a lifestyle because lots of times you have to put them (cattle) first. For me, there’s nothing better after having a hard day at work than to come home and mess with cattle. It’s definitely my stress release.”
For women who want to have cows or get into ranching, Lee recommends the hands-on approach.
“I still have lots to learn but I feel the best way to learn is to surround yourself with people who have done it forever. For example, I love to visit with the guys at the feed stores and other local ranchers to get their opinions and advice. For me, that’s how I learned and continue to learn.”