Montana is viewed as a rough and tumble place where being a rancher requires grit and toughness few possess. What I have found is a bunch of those gritty and tough ranchers are women. Women in Montana ranching are successful women who either partner with their husband or go it alone in helping to put food on America’s table. They also are very passionate about education and causes that show the importance of cattle ranching in Montana and our nation.
One of those causes was Rural Broadband for Montana Ranches with Linda Newman. Linda is National President of WIFE and a rancher herself in Roundup, Montana. This article shows the passion and needs to push causes that can keep ranches in families for the next generation. Causes like this are very important for Montana ranches and enabling the Montana ranch to pass to the next generation.
There is another lovely lady who I have had the pleasure of meeting, talking with, and becoming friends with. Wanda Pinnow who runs the Bracket Butte Ranch in Baker, MT with her husband Craig. She is another one of the women in Montana ranching that volunteers for numerous causes both in support of cattle ranching in Montana, community, school, and church. She has been President of Montana Cattlewomen Association and numerous other organizations that support beef and cattle ranching in Montana and across the nation. I got the opportunity to ask Wanda several questions and thought it would be appropriate to publish this on the eve of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana Cattlewomen Association annual meetings. I do paraphrase a bit but not much.
What increase have you seen in the last 10-15 years of the number of women getting involved in ranching?
Wanda: I do not think there has been an increase in women involved in agriculture. I just think that in the past 20 years they have taken a more active role in the labor, day to day decisions, and financial decisions. Women have stepped into more leadership roles.
What special talents do women bring to running/partnering in running a ranch?
Wanda: We bring another point of view, more patience with animals and sometimes better with bookkeeping and organizational skills.
What affect women have had on driving ranches to more healthy products?
Wanda: On the Bracket Butte Ranch, health products are discussed, studied and then together Craig and I make a decision.
The worst weather situation you have faced?
Wanda: Spring snow storms! Lambs and calves are born during a bad storm. Wind will blow for two days straight and no electricity for two weeks. Our road is blocked and we can’t get to town…then after the storm you go see how many of the babies survived. We have quite a few of these storms.
Concerns about the viability of small family ranches vs larger more corporate ranches?
Wanda: Viability…If you have enough revenue to keep in the black there are no concerns. Just don’t do more than you can handle. Small farms also have private contracts just like big farms do. It comes back to managing capabilities.
How do more women get involved in ranching?
Wanda: I believe raised on a ranch as a youth, no sons in the family or you marry into it.
Does isolation of living on a ranch bother you?
Wanda: I have a need for contact with people. I have a need for conversation. I would really be lost without my email and cell phone.
Challenges for women getting into ranching?
Wanda: There really are not many challenges, knowledge is the greatest asset. There are government loans specifically set up for women. If they are going to raise anything special, there are grants which women can apply for.
Ever been hurt by an animal?
Wanda: Which time? How many times? I have been lifted over a fence with the help of a cow. Tore my lower bicep from a cow trying to hit me. I have been run over by sheep. Hit by a ram named Targhee. Pecked by the Rooster every time you entered the hen house. Many close calls of being chased by a cow. It all depended on how fast I could jump over a fence!
Has technology helped run the Bracket Butte Ranch?
Wanda: Yes technology has been an asset on the Bracket Butte. The computer is used as an information center and we keep the books online. We use our phones in every aspect. Photos, as a notebook, search center and teaching non-Ag people about Ag by posting my office view photos, videos and record keeper.
Who is better at making equipment purchases? Man or woman?
Wanda: Craig and I are equal on equipment purchases. It just depends on what a person is shopping for.
How do you handle the 24/7/365 on-call job?
Wanda: You just go with the flow. Like the day I was going to get lunch in the oven and the cows got out. When that or something similar happens, you just drop what you’re doing and go take care of what needs taken care of.
How many miles do you put on your car every year?
Wanda: 7,300 ranch miles, plus the volunteering I do for CattleWomen adds another 10,000.
Toughest job you have to do?
Wanda: The toughest part would be when I can’t save a calf or lamb. I tube them to keep them alive for a day, then they die. Why can’t I save them all????
Sheep or Cattle?
Wanda: The Bracket Butte has both sheep and cattle. The sheep we shed lamb which involves a lot of cleaning, feeding twice a day. The cattle are put into individual pens for 12 hours then put into a pair lot.
Could you imagine another way of life?
Wanda: No, I could not imagine life any other way. I have always loved the outdoors, animals and working with livestock. I am very thankful that we had the opportunity to raise our children the way we did.
If a young girl wants to get into ranching what advice would you give her?
Wanda: Go for it! Research ahead of time so you have a clue. There are many government programs for young women and grants to help get them started. My note: Take several accounting classes. It will help you immeasurably! Might even give you an advantage over others! Sorry, the professor in me couldn’t resist!
Do women ranchers connect community better?
Wanda: It is a known fact that women offer to volunteer more than men, women are more likely to socialize then men. So, yes women ranchers communicate better than men.
Decaf or Caffeinated?
Wanda: Decaf, that is why I drink Diet Coke! Now water or whiskey…definitely whiskey!
Have you gone out on the town with a FarmersTan?
Wanda: Is there any other way????
Is there government programs encouraging loans to women farmers and ranchers? Do you have to own 51%?
Wanda: Yes there are government programs and no you do not always have to own 51%. That’s why there are loans for first-timers.
What fulfillment do you get from being a part of an industry that feeds America?
Wanda: Sometimes it is very discouraging. So many people do not see us as the ones who feed America. They have no idea how it happens to be in the Walmart warehouse. That is the reason I share so much on Social Media what we do every day.
What associations are you active in?
Wanda: Montana CattleWomen, Baker CowBelles, Agra Women, Farm Bureau, Local 4H, Parish Council, American National CattleWomen
What trends have you seen of beef becoming healthier over the last 10-15 years?
What do you attribute the bad press to about beef? Wanda: Healthier beef, the 32 lean cuts of beef have helped, 10 Essential Vitamins in Only 3 Ounces is a great advertisement. We as producers have learned that we need to promote our own product as well. We can’t let the bad press and uneducated people control the message. **My note if you would like to read an article on the health of beef click on the link.**
Do you consider yourself a Rancher, Rancher’s Wife or Ranch Hand?
Wanda: I am a Rancher full time!
How much does your Faith come into play in Ranching?
Wanda: My Faith plays a very big part of my lifestyle. God gave us these creatures and the knowledge to better our lives. He has given us many gifts and we need to be thankful.
I would like to say a huge Thanks to Wanda Pinnow of Bracket Butte Ranch for taking the time to answer my questions. I am hoping I didn’t make too much of a sexist pig with some of my questions about Women in Montana Ranching.
I hope you enjoyed these insights into Women in Montana Ranching. If you liked this article you might be interested in 8 Critical Elements in Ranch Profitability. Here is a successful Annual Meeting of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Cattlewomen Association! Hope to see you there! For future updates and blog posts, follow us on Facebook where we post links to new articles, properties, and events.
About the Author
Partner at Venture West Ranches
Buzz Tatom, a partner at Venture West Ranches, is a ranch owner and has built, run and sold numerous businesses in his career. This gives him a unique background in helping Montana farmers and ranchers navigate the life decisions that we all have to face. Whether it is passing a ranch on to the next generation or planning for eventual sale, his talents and contacts help save clients money and navigate complicated transactions.