Women Return to Ranching in the West

The numbers of women operating as proprietors of family farms and ranches in the West is steadily increasing. Amy Chozick of the New York Times reports that as of 2012, 14 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States had a female proprietor, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This number is expected to increase as over half of farms and ranches are expected to change hands in the next twenty years. Chozick notes that this is a return to the land for women because “hundreds of years before John Wayne and Gary Cooper gave us the Hollywood version of the American West, with men as the brute, weather-beaten stewards of the land, female ranchers roamed the frontier.” In fact, she points out, indigenous women and the women of tribes like the Navajo and Cheyenne, along with Spanish-Mexican rancheras, tamed the vast fields, hunted with dogs, and raised livestock. Chozick reminds us that European settlers were the ones who brought with them notions of gendered roles that resulted in farms and ranches being owned and inherited only by men. Women are now reclaiming their connection to the land and bringing with them not only physical strength but also new ideas about business practices, animal husbandry, and concerns for the environment. Chozick explains that women are forging new paths in sustainable ranching and humane and ecological livestock management. Many women ranchers also report preferring to run their ranches with all or predominantly female workers, according to Chozick. For example,

  • Caitlyn Taussig of Kremmling, Colorado, runs her family ranch with a “cadre of cowgirls” that includes her mother and sister. She notes that women “treat each other differently. There’s less ego.”
  • Kelsey Ducheneaux of South Dakota raises sustainable beef on land the Lakota Nation has worked for generations. She notes that for Native Americans, the notion of women working the family ranch is a return to the natural order as a matriarchal society.
  • Amy Eller works her family ranch with three generations of Eller women. She notes, “There was just something different, spiritual even, about women working the land together.”
Women now get the opportunity to redefine the role and image of ranchers away from the rugged, individualistic males to collaborative, capable females who are concerned about the environmental impact of farming, and it is inspiring. We know that notions of gender roles die hard, but successful role models like the ones in this story help open pathways for all of us. Photo courtesy of Justin Clark on U]]>

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