Wagyu women speak out

By Burt Rutherford, American Wagyu Association

Women have always been an important part of the cattle business, but too often in a traditional sense. That’s changing, as a panel of successful women detailed during the American Wagyu Association “Shaping the Future” annual convention in Charleston, S.C.
“Everyone provides different ways of thinking about things and women do, too,” said Arlie Reeves with Bar R Wagyu, Pullman, Wash. “So maybe because we’re not always as physically strong, we’ve been taught to think about things a little differently, how we can achieve things differently,” she told Wagyu breeders.
Reeves grew up in the Wagyu business and jokes that, while showing Wagyu steers at the county fair, she always placed last in her class and first in the carcass contest. Growing up on a ranch, she wasn’t treated any differently than a boy would have been, she said.
“My dad never treated me any different than he would a son, so I was expected to do all of it. I’ve been on fence crews for three months straight.” However, since a young woman in her 30s doesn’t fit the stereotype of a working rancher, she’s often misunderstood.
“Often, the new people I meet, I don’t think they understand what it is that I do, or they might think that I just do the social media on the ranch. So, it can be challenging when I go places with my fiancé or family members and we’re talking about the cattle and they’ll kindly redirect people to me. They say, ‘Well, she’s actually the expert here.’ I see people make those assumptions and I
don’t try and take them too seriously,” she said.

Pam Armstrong agrees. “I think the biggest challenge for women in agriculture is not being taken seriously,” she told Wagyu breeders, “but if you can prove yourself, you will be taken seriously.”
Armstrong, owner of Maple Row Stock Farm and New York Wagyu, Clarence, N.Y., encouraged women in the audience to get involved with various farm organizations in their area. “You get a lot of contacts, and you can develop some relationships with those people, and they realize what you can bring to the table as a woman in agriculture.”
Tina Edwardson, who owns Branson Wagyu Cattle, Weatherford, Texas, with her husband, advises women looking to start a Wagyu business to learn everything they can.
“You can’t figure out what to buy unless you’ve studied and done your research on your animals. Know who you’re buying from and know what you want. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
According to Reeves, more women are looking to enter the beef business, telling Wagyu breeders that she gets inquiries weekly about internships or jobs on the ranch, and 90% are women. “Some years, our entire intern crew are women.
It’s been interesting and exciting to see that, and a lot of those women go on to work in the industry in feedyards or feeding companies.”
Reeves says these women tell her that the larger industry is a little different than the culture at her ranch. “I think Wagyu might be a little more open to women in the industry than the general cattle industry in some regards,” she said. “But the future is bright and really exciting.”
Edwardson echoes that. She consults with many new Wagyu breeders, helping them get established in the business. Her advice? “First, do what’s right for your customer. Second, do what’s good for the breed and your animals. And if you do that, your own success will just naturally follow.”

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