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Cowgirl Camp helps build skills, network among women ranchers

The first participants in the five-day New Cowgirl Camp in Eastern Washington learned about livestock management, planning grazing and other practical skills. Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette hopes the camp leads to a network of women ranchers supporting one another.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on September 1, 2017 9:58AM

Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette shows participants in the new Cowgirl Camp an abandoned blackbird nest she found on wetlands she keeps her cattle away from through mid-July. Robinette showed participants different parts of the land and how to plan managed grazing Aug. 31.

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press

Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette shows participants in the new Cowgirl Camp an abandoned blackbird nest she found on wetlands she keeps her cattle away from through mid-July. Robinette showed participants different parts of the land and how to plan managed grazing Aug. 31.

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Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette, left, talks about how the forage on a piece of land has returned after managed grazing Aug. 31 during the Cowgirl Camp.

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press

Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette, left, talks about how the forage on a piece of land has returned after managed grazing Aug. 31 during the Cowgirl Camp.

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CHENEY, Wash. — Eight women new to ranching spent this week learning the intricacies of tending livestock and managing the land.

The instructors were ranchers Beth Robinette and Sandy Matheson, who taught the unique five-day New Cowgirl Camp, a pilot course they offered only to women.

Robinette taught participants everything from how to plan livestock grazing through the year to how to climb over barb-wire fences.

The camp took place Aug. 28- Sept. 1 at Robinette’s ranch in Cheney, Wash. Robinette said Aug. 31 the camp had “far surpassed” her “wildest expectations.”

She and Matheson wanted to mix the theory of sustainable livestock management with hands-on practical skills, developing the actual tools ranchers need to have, she said.

“And then we had this twist where we really wanted to focus on women, both being women in agriculture and seeing women are really underrepresented in agriculture,” she said. “There’s no reason for it to be that way.”

Rosle Dyre was one of the students. Originally from Denmark, she now works at a ranch in British Columbia. She previously worked at a Savory Institute hub ranch — the organization promotes holistic ranch management — in Chile, where she got interested in sustainable farming. Robinette’s ranch is also a learning site for an institute hub.

“That’s what I want to do with my life,” Dyre said. “I saw this course and I thought, ‘That’s pretty close.’”

She wanted to learn more about using animals as a tool in managing the land and hopes to have a cattle and sheep ranch in her home country.

Joan Becich, of Ashland, Ore., owns a small ranch, but doesn’t have an agricultural background and hasn’t been involved in its management. She participated in the camp to get exposure to the right techniques, she said.

Over the course of several days, Becich said, she became less fearful about the undertaking.

“I know there’s going to be help out there,” she said.

Bonnie Buxton of Medford, Ore., participated because she, her husband and her husband’s family went into business with property where the pastures had been poorly managed. No one knew anything about cattle ranching, she said, so she’s been taking courses to learn more about grazing and rotational management.

“Seeing practical application of what I’ve been reading in the books is very helpful,” Buxton said.

A retired veterinarian, Matheson said it’s been amazing to watch the students try new things and build connections.

One of the participants isn’t interested in ranching, but wanted to learn more about the leather supply chain. Robinette and another participant helped her plan a business presentation.

“It’s just really cool to have a network of women entrepreneurs, of women ranchers supporting each other,” Robinette agreed. “I hope we have subsequent Cowgirl Camps and keep growing the network and keep building the support for each other.”

Robinette balanced running the Cowgirl Camp with daily management of her ranch. She also took the week off from her other job, as co-founder of the LINC Foods co-op in Spokane.

“This is just the first of many Cowgirl Camps, I think,” she said.



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