The feedlot woman
Baxter Black, DVM
I have known and worked with many women in the feedlot business. Some as cowboys, some as vets, some as lay doctors, as cattle processors, feed truck drivers, foremen (or forepersons) and managers (or should that be womanagers?).
Lest you think I’m going to waste your time with a commentary on cute political correctness witticisms, relax, I’m not. Nor do the feedlot women I know waste their time with political correctness. I think I’d be safe in saying affirmative action doesn’t have much impact in the typical feedlot. The women working there earn their place.
And it is a chauvinist world. But the big equalizer is animals. The crew can tell in a hurry if a new person knows how to handle stock. Should some macho bluffer start pickin’ on a new woman and she turns out to be a good hand, he’ll back off (or the crew will straighten him out). A good hand, regardless of gender is recognized and welcome. It’s been said, and I tend to agree, that women seem to have more empathy with animals, even feedlot animals. It’s noticeable in the sick pens, in the processing area, loading fats and raising orphan calves.
There are exceptions in both genders, of course. There are plenty of men who don’t feel the need to jab a new steer two times with a hot shot before the tailgate opens ahead of them. There are men who exercise patience when pulling a calf from some fat pregnant feedlot heifer. And there are men who have some compassion for a beast in trouble.
On the other hand, there are women who treat cattle like inanimate objects or judge a good day by the number of head processed rather than how much unneeded stress was created. If women are easier on cattle maybe it’s the mother instinct. Workin’ feedlot cattle requires more stamina than strength. We have hydraulic squeeze chutes, front-end loaders, nose tongs, horses, pulleys, push gates and hot shots which allow humans to handle critters considerably bigger and stronger than them. But it takes stamina to process or doctor eight hours a day for three weeks straight. Women are long on stamina.
One of the biggest deterrents for women has always been that ground work in a feedlot is a dirty job, fraught with smashed fingers, stepped-on toes and pucky in your hair. But plenty of women can handle it. And to our industry’s credit they are receiving equal opportunity for advancement. For a bunch of chauvinistic cowboys that has been a big step.
If she’s the best cowboy in the feedyard and everybody knows it, she deserves the pay and the promotion. ‘Cause in the end, as every manager knows, it’s just good business. ❖
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