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Women in Ag Network - March Feature

By Megan Roberts, Extension educator

Greetings from the Women in Ag Network. Over the winter, we took a hiatus from our newsletter and our Woman in Ag Feature. We had always planned to start back up in March, but in light of the major changes happening right now in the state, country, and world, it seemed extra important to connect and network with you all in a format that is still possible--online.  This month, we profile Rachel Gray in our Woman in Ag feature. Rachel is a beef rancher near Blackduck, MN and recently participated in the Annie's Project six-week agricultural risk management course hosted by Extension educator Heather Dufault.

WAGN: Tell us a little about your background and farm.
Rachel Gray
Rachel: I grew up on a dairy farm in Blackduck, Minnesota.  I was always involved with the farm in some way. I was the calf feeder as a young child, and then I graduated to hay hauler and eventually tractor driver. Growing up I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture. I went to college to become a teacher. I taught school for 14 years but always worked during the summer on the farm. In 2012, my husband and I decided that the time was right to buy some cows and begin to help my Mom and Dad expand their herd. That has led to us buying the business from them and eventually changing the farm from a cow/calf operation into a heifer development operation.  We purchase top end replacement quality heifers from very select ranches. We focus on F1 baldy females with Topp Hereford and Ellingson Angus genetics. The heifers are developed and bred here. We focus on the proper feed and nutrition for heifers and use rotational grazing practices throughout the summer and fall. Each year, we are excited to offer a large selection of top-quality heifers to help people expand their herds.

WAGN: You participated in the Northwestern Minnesota Annie's Project. Can you tell us more about that experience and what you learned from the women in your cohort?
Rachel: I participated in Annie’s Project in November and December 2019. I was excited to be part of the project because I felt that in our community, we had many women that were farming and ranching, yet felt disconnected from each other. I feel that Annie’s Project offered us a time and space to connect as farmers and as women. The most amazing thing to come from the project is that our local food coop has opened its door to local products. The coop now features many things grown or produced by women in the class. Our farm, Little Timber Farms, has beef sticks and summer sausage available at the coop.  The cohort was valuable in that women connected over the topic of farming and built lasting relationships. We learned about farm financing, health care and insurance, marketing and even record keeping, but the thing that kept women coming to class were the connections they were building.

WAGN: What is something new you've done on your farm in the last year that has been an improvement?
Rachel: We are constantly trying to increase our efficiency and make sure that our heifers are very marketable. In the past, we kept records on each animal, but those were paper and pencil records that had to be transferred to the computer. In the last year, we have purchased the equipment to use electronic identification (EID) tags to track cattle. Each heifer is tagged with an EID tag, and her information is uploaded into our program. We have an electronic reader that reads the tag, sends the info to the computer, and interfaces with our scale system. Many ranches use this technology. For us it has been a real time saver both at vaccination time and at sale time. I feel it makes us more accurate with our records and helps save time.

WAGN: Why do you enjoy working in agriculture?
Feeding Calves
Rachel: I enjoy my job because I am getting to do what I have always wanted to do. Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to be involved in agriculture. I am fortunate to be able to work closely with my family. It is important to me that the legacy of this farm has continued through five generations. I am getting to do a job that I am passionate about and that I feel is making a difference. We focus on conservation techniques here that are helping soil and water quality, as well as putting out a quality heifer that will improve the genetics in other herds.

WAGN: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Rachel: I think that it is so important for women that are involved in any aspect of agriculture to take time and connect with other like-minded women. Those connections can lead to support when we need it, new business relationships, and even lasting friendships. I would encourage women to attend an Annie’s Project class and see what is offered.

Thanks Rachel for sharing your story with WAGN for this month’s “Woman in Ag” feature. To learn more about WAGN visit z.umn.edu/WAGN. Thank you also to Rachel and all the farmers/ranchers that are working hard right now to keep our food and agricultural supply strong.

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