First woman to represent the Feeder Cattle Council.
I am an accidental “Woman in Beef”. That is to say; I was born a city girl and have never owned a single head of beef, except the ones that have passed through my freezer. I have however, sold hundreds of thousands of head of cattle and been in the beef industry for over thirty years, working at Rockingham Livestock Sales, Inc. in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Currently, I function as the jack-of-all-trades in the office and I recently joined the VCA feeder council representing the Rockingham Feeder Calf Association as the first female representative on the board.
Like many farms and ag-related businesses, Rockingham Livestock is family owned and operated. I married into my job in 1986 and have been here ever since. I began as a young girl who imagined springing heifers as cute cows that bounded around in the field. Through the years, I learned that idea wasn’t quite right along with so many other things from my mentor and sweet mother-in-law, Frances Chambers. She was a ‘woman in beef’ long before I was born and there couldn’t have been a better role model. I learned all the nuts and bolts of good bookkeeping from her. All practices I still use today, despite technology and computerization. Most importantly though, I learned the importance of honesty and integrity and always putting the customer first. My mother and father-in-law were well known and loved in this business and it has been my pleasure to continue on in their path.
Much has changed since I began, most notably the computerization of the sale and the use of social media in marketing. I held out for a long time on the computer. We finally made that leap in 2009 and have never looked back. Now, when the last head is sold it is thirty minutes or so to done and balanced. No more endless hunting for a transposition error with hours of recalculating and re-adding of check books! The social media use is just as important of a leap. In about 2007, we paid a coder several thousand dollars to build a website that was not very useful and impossible for me to edit. Fast forward to three years ago, technology and social media have erupted in user friendliness and we have a new website that I constructed and maintain on my own. I frequently change the content and we use it to post video for every State Graded Feeder sale as well as posting our sale orders and sale results. About half of our buyers now request sale information e-mailed to them instead of faxing and many want me to text a picture of their invoice to them. We maintain a Facebook page that is growing constantly in followers as the younger generation of farmers take over. I haven’t delved into Twitter or Snapchat just yet, but I’m sure we’ll get there.
One of the questions posed to me for this article was advice I might give women pursuing a career in a mostly male-dominated business. I thought about that for a while and decided it was the same advice I would give in any circumstance. Work hard. Be willing to learn. Build relationships. Listen more than you speak. Be honest. Care about people. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard, even when no one notices. This is the way I learned to do business from my in-laws. Certainly it is not the advice a Fortune 500, MBA business man would give you, but because of it, I sleep really well at night.
The best part of my job is the people. We’ve had a sign on the door of the back office for years that reads, ‘Everyone brings joy to this office. Some by entering, others by leaving!’ It’s true, but most bring joy by entering. After all these years I have actually learned to find joy in being uber kind to the ones who drive me crazy. So, if I’m REALLY nice to you, well, you might wonder. Seriously, though, we are with folks through marriages, babies, divorces, graduations, deaths, grandbabies. We only see them ten minutes a week, but they share, we share. I’ve laughed and cried with them. They matter to me and I am better for having known many of them.
There is much to be proud of in an ag related business and I would encourage any woman with an interest to pursue it with no fear. Farmers feed the world. Women have been feeding and nurturing the world since the beginning of time. We’re built for the task.