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Women open up about what it’s like to work in dairy industry

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 10 October 2013

For our inaugural issue focused on women in the dairy industry, Progressive Dairyman asked a few industry professionals to open up about their opinions about a dairywoman’s role in the industry today.

Below are responses by Michelle Carson, dairy research unit supervisor, Nutreco Canada Agresearch, from Harley, Ontario; Annamarie Murray, president of DNA Farms Inc. in Mitchell, Ontario; and Martina Pfister, dairy specialist – Western/Central Ontario for DuPont Pioneer, also from Mitchell, Ontario.



What is your dairy background?
00 carson michelle


CARSON: I grew up in downtown Toronto, and when I was 16 years old, I started in the Junior Forest Ranger Program run by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

I loved the forestry industry, and after three years of working in the Ottawa Valley for the Ministry, I enrolled at Trent University for the forestry program.

One month prior to starting my college program, I was informed that forestry was not a promising industry, especially not for women.


My next love was working with animals, and as luck would have it, Kemptville College had an animal-science agriculture program, and within a few weeks, I was registered and ready to pursue the agricultural life.
00 murray annamarie


MURRAY: I farm with my husband, David Murray. The dairy has been in my family since 1951. My grandparents and father immigrated to Canada from Switzerland and started the farm. My parents took over in 1968, and David and I took over in 1996.

As the oldest of five children, I was called upon to help with chores in the barn or in the field as needed. Dairying has always been a part of my life, but I wasn’t necessarily planning to make it a career.

David decided to make dairy farming his career path, which is why we ended up where we are today. When our children were young, I was able to spend most of the time at home with them, helping mostly at those busy times of the year. When we moved onto the farm, it was easier to work full-time.
00 pfister martina



PFISTER: I grew up on a family dairy farm where we milked around 75 cows in a freestall set-up. I helped with milking, feeding, tractor work, animal health, feeding calves, etc., as it was important for my father that we knew all aspects of the farm.

I participated in the Mitchell 4-H Dairy Club and attended the University of Guelph, where I was a participant in the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge.

After graduating, I worked for Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show looking after the cows in the robotic milking demonstration barn. For the past year, I’ve been working for DuPont Pioneer on the forages team, where I support our sales representatives and dairy producers.

I once spent a summer working on a dairy farm overseas and have toured dairies in the U.S., Peru, Brazil, Ireland and England.

What challenges do you think women in the dairy industry face today?

CARSON: Being in the industry for 32 years (starting from the bottom and working my way up), I can say with conviction that I faced no challenges because of my gender.

The typical masculine attitude or environment has not existed in my world. I feel that my commitment, hard work and contributions have garnered much respect from my peers. In fact, I would say that women might even have the edge over males in the dairy industry.

When it comes to working with livestock, women appear to have a more nurturing and gentle approach, accompanied by being more detail-oriented.

MURRAY: I think it may be more stressful for women to balance a family life and raising young children with the demands of operating or managing a dairy farm. Farm safety is always a concern if the children go to work with you.

In the past, it was sometimes a challenge to be taken seriously. It was always annoying when the salesman or dealer would request “to see the boss” if they saw me first. Naturally, this didn’t help them make the sale. Thankfully, this attitude is changing.

PFISTER: Women today face fewer challenges in the dairy industry because women of recent decades have contributed hard work to family farms, the dairy industry, ag businesses and farm organizations.

They have gained a respect and more equality similar to positions that were dominated by men in the past. My generation is thankful for these women’s contributions.

There may always be physical strength challenges, or the challenge to have our voices heard, but like men, a woman today has to prove herself with knowledge, resourcefulness, hard work, interest and dedication in her position.

These qualities are more important to possess than one’s gender. There are still on-farm situations where women’s shared decision-making and management roles are not fully recognized by the community or industry. This is a challenge we still have to overcome.

What excites or inspires you about being in the dairy industry?

CARSON: For me, it is about being a member of a dynamic team. A major component of my job is working with dairy scientists and nutritionists, using cutting-edge techniques to research and develop new products for the dairy industry.

My co-workers take great pride in the quality of care given to animals while conducting research and developing our products.

The team strives to do better every day and this, in turn, focuses me on our goals. Working at multiple levels of the dairy industry has provided an excellent opportunity for me to network with amazing professionals, and I feel very privileged by being able to work with them.

Being surrounded by creative people and gaining so much knowledge keeps me driven and motivated to succeed.

MURRAY: I love the lifestyle. Having a job to get up for every day. The variety in my work day. The pride in producing good food.

Being part of this industry in Canada where we are allowed to make a respectable living and have the support of government and the respect of the populace. It also allows me the time to participate in the community.

PFISTER: The dairy industry is forever changing; there are many opportunities to use the latest technologies and current research to progress a dairy operation. It is still satisfying and exciting to be able to operate a dairy business with the individuality to meet personal goals and objectives while conforming to regulations and guidelines.

The dairy industry is not dying. In fact, the opposite is true; it is very exciting to see the ongoing research and dedication that companies contribute to make dairy operations more profitable and efficient.

What advice would you have for a young woman hoping to enter the dairy industry, start her own dairy or pursue a management role on an operation?

CARSON: First, you must enjoy what you do. Whether you are walking through the barn door, office door or on the road knocking on doors, you have to love it.

Second, you need to be in a workplace that creates an environment that will challenge you to grow in your career and also as an individual. Working in an environment that is friendly to women, aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities is a great example.

Women can thrive in the dairy industry when given the opportunity in a good working environment with positive leadership.

MURRAY: I would encourage any woman interested in making a career of dairying to go for it. If you’re passionate about it, then you will put in the effort to learn and read as much as you can, asking questions of those with experience and searching out those industry people that can be a support.

None of us can do everything on the farm as farmers in the past may have done. There are many resources at our disposal to help us make decisions.

Whether it is the veterinarian for herd-health decisions, the machinery dealer for maintenance or breakdown issues or the crop specialist to help with cropping decisions. None of us is an island. Make use of all available resources.

PFISTER: My advice for women starting in the dairy industry is very simple: Work hard and know your stuff. Looking at a sales or support role in particular, if there is a case where you are doubted in your abilities due to your gender, knowledge trumps all.

If you can answer the questions, or get back to them in a timely fashion with the correct answer, you will slowly become their trusted adviser.

Most dairy producers are looking for ways to make their operation more profitable and sustainable; they are always learning. It can speak volumes if you can help make improvements on their operation.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given as a woman in dairy?

CARSON: Work hard at your job, and even if you don’t succeed, you will have pride in knowing that you did your best. Lead by example, treat people how you want to be treated and embrace new opportunities and challenges.

MURRAY: If the silo unloader broke down or the stable cleaner stopped moving or something else malfunctioned … “pick up the phone and call the people who know how to fix it.” This saved me a lot of time and aggravation.

PFISTER: The best piece of advice I was ever given as a woman in the dairy industry is advice my father gave me when I was 8: “Just because you are a girl doesn’t mean you can’t do it.” I have lived with that motto ever since.  PD