Surprising Oregon rancher Katharine Jackson with the 2019 Outstanding Cattlewoman of Year award was no simple feat for the committee charged with making the decision.
Because of her top tier involvement in the American National Cattlewomen, Jackson had to be thrown off the scent of the selection process — she was even told another member had won.
“I didn’t even know I was a nominee,” she said. “They were very sneaky.”
The subterfuge necessary to keep Jackson in the dark about the honor underscores her close decades-long connection to the group, which is devoted to beef-related promotion, education and legislation.
Since joining the organization’s Klamath County chapter three decades ago, Jackson has served in numerous leadership roles at the local, state and national levels, including a stint as the Oregon Cattlewomen’s president.
Wendy Bingham, a fellow Oregon rancher who nominated Jackson for the award, said her friend embodies the “cattlewomen’s spirit,” which means she “digs in even when the work is dirty or difficult.”
“She just continues to give,” Bingham said.
Several letters in support of Jackson’s nomination cite her relentless dedication to spreading the American National Cattlewomen’s message, such as stopping by the side of the road to call a radio show to correct misinformation about the beef industry.
“She’s a very effective leader. She’s courteous, she goes above and beyond,” said Jenny Coelho, a fellow Oregon rancher.
Raised in West
As a child, Jackson attended school in Yuma, Ariz., where her father worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, while spending summers at her mother’s family cattle ranch in Bonanza, Ore.
“I learned a lot of lessons on the back of a horse,” she said. “I fell in love with it and figured out that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
While in college, Jackson had nearly completed a degree in education when an environmental lawsuit implicating her family’s ranch convinced her to change directions and study range management.
Jackson’s interest in helping ranchers resolve regulatory disputes with government agencies inspired her to obtain a graduate degree in agriculture while helping her mother operate the ranch business and improve their cattle herd’s genetics.
“I really like to be busy,” she said.
Her career has since ranged from conducting legal research for a private company to helping farmers and ranchers while employed at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Klamath Watershed Partnership nonprofit.
Most recently, Jackson took at job as the senior long range planner for Douglas County, where she ensures cities follow county regulations and that the county government complies with state regulations.
Growing up and working on a cattle ranch has aided in Jackson’s career, teaching her to look at the whole problem and handle multiple tasks at once.
“It helps me see what is practical and what is not practical,” she said.
The Oregon Cattlewomen participate in such events as Oregon Ag Fest, which offers the chance to teach children and their parents about the cattle industry.
“We talk to lots of vegetarians about beef,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she’s particularly proud of the state organization’s programs for junior cattlewomen under 18 years old and collegiate cattlewomen between 18 and 25 years old, which have served as a model for the national group.
“We offered to be a crash test dummy, so to speak,” she said.
To get young people interested in the organization, it’s critical to have “something to offer to make it worth their while,” Jackson said. In the Oregon Cattlewomen’s case, that includes mentorship in public speaking skills and networking opportunities with potential employers.
Meeting prospective bosses in the fields of agribusiness and veterinary pharmaceuticals allows young members to ask questions, such as, “what do I need to have on my resumé? What are you looking for?” she said.
Cattlewomen are also coached in developing an “elevator talk” to succinctly explain the importance of the beef industry, which improves their ability to communicate, Jackson said.
Aside from impressing employers and others, the pitch can help young women to focus on their goals and the reasons for pursuing them, she said. Jackson considers her elevator talk a “personal mantra” that she revises continuously.
“It’s very self-motivating to remember your ‘why,’” she said.