Cowgirl Camps

Cheney, Wash., rancher Beth Robinette, left, talks about managed grazing during a “Cowgirl Camp” session.

Another successful season of “New Cowgirl Camps” recently concluded, and more sessions are being planned.

“It turns out there are a whole bunch of women out there who are curious about ranching,” said Beth Robinette, the Cheney, Wash., rancher who, with retired veterinarian Sandy Matheson, puts on the event.

The camp provides an introduction to ranching for women. Topics include holistic management, low-stress livestock handling, animal husbandry, fencing and facilities, and business and financial planning.

Robinette and Matheson held two workshops this year, in June and August. They typically draw 11 to 15 people for each session. This was the camp’s third year.

This year, they added a demonstration on sheepdog herding and cattle roping.

Their inclusion in a New York Times article about the growing number of female ranchers also increased attention. Robinette and Matheson offered the second camp to accommodate the increased interest.

Participants this year ranged from a fifth-generation rancher taking over her family operation to a retired airline pilot looking for a second career.

“We get people from all across the spectrum, which is really cool,” Robinette said.

Some participants might not ever want to own their own ranch, but are interested in land management issues.

Robinette said she welcomes the opportunity to familiarize urban residents with the realities of ranch life, and for ranchers to be more sensitive to their customers’ needs.

If these camps are “Ranching 101,” Robinette and Matheson are considering what a 200-level course might look like. Next summer they’ll add more in-depth, focused and shorter classes.

“It’s an intense five days and we cover a lot of ground, but you can only get so deep into topics when you’re trying to cover so much stuff,” Robinette said.

Robinette and Matheson also offer a new rancher camp, essentially the same program, but open to men and women.

“We’re just trying to create more space for people interested in land management to learn what they should know before they jump into the deep end,” Robinette said.

They’re also looking for other collaborators to increase their offerings.

Robinette will speak about grazing management and animal husbandry in October during a butchery course for women in Rice, Wash.

She says the camps are living up to their hopes.

“Sandy and I are both women in ranching, we’ve both experienced the isolating nature that that role can bring, and we’ve both experienced a benefit from being around other women doing that work and creating a space that feels safe for new people to come in and try stuff, maybe ask silly questions,” she said. “It’s a very supportive, encouraging environment ... and I think people are really responding to that.”

Robinette expects to announce the schedule for next year’s camps soon. The cost to attend the camp is $995.

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