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Dairywomen no longer have to ‘prove’ themselves

Sarah Daugherty Published on 31 October 2014

“Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” This quote was one that hung on my bulletin board in college as I studied animal science, preparing to enter the world of dairy cattle nutrition.

At that time, in the mid-1990s, I believed it was a true statement. It felt like, each time I stepped onto a dairy farm, the first goal was simply to prove to the dairyman that I knew what I was talking about and then that my work would be equal to or exceed that of my male counterparts.

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Entering into my freshman year at college, 71 percent of the students in the school of agriculture were men; upon graduation, that number had fallen to 65 percent.

In 2002, the balance was split at 50 percent, and today, in the 2013-2014 academic year, women outnumber men in the University of Wisconsin – Platteville School of Agriculture by a slim margin: 49 percent men to 51 percent women.

Presently, I can honestly say that the above quote would never make it on my bulletin board; not due to the statistics, but because I believe it’s simply no longer true in our industry.

From dairy owners to ag teachers, industry representatives to consultants such as myself, women have their hand on the pulse of the dairy industry and are respected for their experience, expertise and intelligence.

Over the past decade, I’ve worked alongside men and women alike and can see both the similarities and differences in how we achieve and define success.

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Having worked full time in the dairy industry since completion of my master’s degree in 2002, my role as a nutritionist has not changed, but my goals and techniques certainly have.

An 8-to-5 workday is a rarity, and flexibility in my schedule has become a top priority. A high level of congruency is paramount to making my career successful.

With children aged 4, 5, 8 and 9, a farm with 20 beef cow-calf pairs, a husband who works full time managing the university farming enterprise and me consulting with 10 clients, time management is one of my biggest challenges.

Congruency is the most important reason I have chosen to become an independent consultant over working with a company or corporation.

There are no normal business hours, as I do most of my office work between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. before the kids get up. And when there’s an activity at school, or a child is home sick, I’m almost always able to arrange my schedule to be there.

It’s also very important to respect the schedules of my clients, however, so making minimal changes that would impact my time on their dairy is also a priority. So it’s a true blessing to have family in the area and a very helpful husband. Without their support, my career along with four children would not be possible.

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Like many of you, I grew up on a dairy farm. There were seven children in my family, and my mom stayed home until my youngest brother entered first grade. The roles were clearly defined in that Dad earned the money and Mom took care of the house and children.

My husband, Justin, and I share the household chores a little more than my parents, but the majority of the responsibility with our four children and the housework is on my list because he takes care of our beef cows and farm.

Some days it seems as if I’m doing the work of two with all the dirty laundry and dishes, dusty shelves and cluttered countertops staring at me as I walk past them to my office. It will have to wait; Friday is my day to tackle housework – sometimes I win; often it doesn’t all get done.

Fortunately, the kids are getting old enough to help on the ritualistic Saturday morning shout-fest of getting toys and clean clothes put away. Unfortunately, they’re also old enough to join the YMCA basketball league on Saturdays … ugh, why did we agree to that? Let the chauffeuring begin.

So why do women choose to be mothers and have a career in agriculture? The income that working outside the home provides is certainly part of it, but often the most important reason we choose to work isn’t monetary.

Dairy is in our blood too. The cows, calves, people and connection to the earth that is dairy farming is part of our identity. We use hard work, dedication and a strong passion for helping others to teach our children about important values.

While my goal of being the best dairy nutritionist in the dairy state has taken a back seat for now, I continue to strive to do the absolute best I can for my clients.

Learning, changing and watching new ideas take hold is what drives me to love my work. Influencing, guiding and realizing the importance of family is what leads me as a mother. Yes, women remain the minority in the agriculture work force. At my company, me and Erin Mosley, Ph.D., are the only women in the group of 10 consultants.

At industry conferences and meetings, there is often a line for the men’s restroom, but never the ladies’ (How often does that happen?). But the women who work in our industry have proven to be trustworthy, offering helpful advice that I’m grateful for within the supportive networks that have developed.

Today, my bulletin board is covered with pictures of my children, ration rules of thumb and new quotes to guide me in the present. One from Mother Teresa: “Some people come in your life as blessings.

Some come in your life as lessons.” And another from Michael P. Watson: “Strong people don’t put others down … They lift them up.” Strong people who do that lifting would include people like the women involved in the Dairy Girl Networking Dinner at World Dairy Expo.

Dairywomen and industry leaders who work hard to support other women in the field, all while taking care of their family, home, farm and career in a way that I admire.  PD

Sarah Daugherty
  • Sarah Daugherty
  • Independent Consultant
  • GPS Dairy Consulting, LLC

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