Western heritage has painted the picture of a rugged cowboy on the ranch. However, according to the most recent Agriculture Census, more than 230,000 farms or ranches across America have a woman at the helm.
As National Women’s History Month and National Ag Day converge on March 23, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association highlighted a few of the stories of the thousands of women across the country who produce delicious high-quality beef.
Terryn Drieling, 36, and her husband, live and work on a large ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. Drieling spends her days caring for the land, cattle and their three young children, and still finds time to manage a family business and various social media profiles.
“Ranching and raising beef cattle is more than our livelihood: It’s our passion. It’s what lights our fire and gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s our calling,” she said.
The ranch is always a busy place as the family works through weather and temperature swings and the demand of caring for cattle. May marks the beginning of calving season, and family is even busier as they help cows give birth and tend to the calves’ needs throughout summer.
In addition to the family’s dedication to animal care, Drieling and her family, like beef farmers and ranchers across the country, are committed to preserving the land they live on and keeping their operation environmentally sustainable. They move the cows and their calves every 3-5 days through their growing season grazing rotation. The grazing rotation — or grazing plan — is mapped out at the start of every year and helps ensure they are not over-using the land, but rather are helping to improve the soil health. The plan considers what has taken place in past years, grass quality and availability and herd events like calving season.
“While it is a plan and nothing is set in stone, having this grazing plan year-in and year-out helps us make the best decisions we can for the land and livestock in our care,” said Terryn. “No matter what Mother Nature throws at us, we’re better prepared.”
Kinzie, Karly, and Avery Burtrum
Three sisters support their family’s multi-generational cattle ranch while balancing school, work, and household. Kinzie, 20; Karly, 20; and Avery Burtrum, 17, are instrumental in caring for Black and Red Angus Cattle at Burtrum Cattle LLC Ranch in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
When not attending class or working at Farm Data Services, Inc. — the family’s agriculture accounting firm — the Burtrum sisters take on the daily chores of feeding and caring for cattle and helping with calving and everything in between.
“Ranching never stops,” said Kinzie. “The cows don’t know it is Christmas, Easter, or an anniversary of some sort. Whether there is a foot of snow on the ground or it is over 110 degrees, these animals we care for still need to be fed and taken care of, and there is nothing else we would rather be doing.”
Caring for others and juggling numerous responsibilities comes naturally to the three siblings. Their mother also balanced a career, home responsibilities, and ranch work, until her recent passing, which only inspired the young women to take on more responsibility.
“I learned how to buy groceries and pick proteins for the home,” said Avery. “Also, because my dad is busy at the ranch and office, I have had to learn to cook some meals, as well. This has taught me how to do meal prep and diversify my skills. Because of the pandemic, we switched to online grocery ordering. I utilize various resources including the Beef. It’s. What’s For Dinner. website to find healthy recipes.”
Brandi Karisch, Ph.D., 37, finds the balance between lectures and livestock as a State Beef Cattle Extension Specialist for Mississippi State University, co-owner of MBK Cattle, wife, and mom to two young boys.
She and her husband started MBK Cattle in 2012. Today, they spend mornings, evenings, and weekends in the fields with their young children raising registered Simmental and SimAngus cattle.
“We choose to raise cattle because we love it, and we cannot imagine a life without cattle in it,” Karisch said. “Our goal is to give these cattle the best possible life we can while they are entrusted in our care. For our family, cows are something we eat, sleep, and breathe.”
When not raising kids and cattle on the farm, Karisch is never far from agriculture. She works full time providing research and training for beef cattle producers in Mississippi, and across the southeast, equipping them with the latest research and techniques needed to optimize cattle care and produce beef in a sustainable way, hopefully ensuring they can pass their farm to the next generation.
Whether it’s her job at the University or at the ranch, the animal care is a top priority. “We take care of our cattle similar to how we take care of our kids,” Karisch said. “One thing that I was always taught as a child, and they we are teaching our kids is that the cattle come first. If it’s hot, or cold, or wet it doesn’t matter because the cattle are taken care of because it is our responsibility to provide for them.”
These women remain steadfast advocates for the agriculture industry. Yet, advancing cattle ranching is their true passion.
“Knowing that taking care of the land and livestock, and bringing delicious, nutritious beef to tables across this country and abroad is so much bigger than ourselves,” Drieling said. “And that’s not something we take lightly.”
“Training the next generation, particularly the next generation of young women in the cattle industry is something that is very important to me,” Karisch said. “I look at it as a way to give back to the industry that helped to mold me. I find it so fulfilling when I see that spark of confidence start to develop in a student, and see them step out of their comfort zone and become a leader.”
“Growing up, I always knew strong women were the backbone to cattle ranching because that’s what I saw day after day,” said Karly Burtrum. “Now that I’m older and have more responsibilities — whether that’s at the ranch, at school, or at home — I have a whole new level of appreciation for all of the women who came before me. I want to continue the legacy of balancing cattle ranching and our lives outside of it, with as much strength, grace, and heart as they did.”