Heather Hays Stinnett is a rancher, wife and mother balancing life and the day-to-day tasks of running her family’s operation, Hays Cattle. She grew up in the feedyards on the state line of Colorado and Kansas, where generations of her family have lived and worked. Their cow-calf, feeder and beef sales businesses allow her to do what she loves and take care of the people she loves most. She is also a former president of Colorado CattleWomen and is still active in the organization.
How have your experiences working on your ranch influenced your growth, personally and professionally?
Simply, it’s made me who I am, from the early days riding pens in the feedyard and calving in the bitter February cold on the plains to working for industry leaders around the nation and marketing our product overseas. Growing up on a high plains desert, I learned to humble myself to the forces that gave no consideration to my success or failure. The early lessons were basic but critical: Respect the power of God and Mother Nature, work smart, always bring your integrity and willingness to learn, drive for what you want and take responsibility for what you did.
Over the years, I’ve served as an FFA state officer, judged livestock on the collegiate level, helped grow a successful family business, worked with producers to utilize A.I. in their operations and led our state CattleWomen. However, the best experience has been the return home with my husband to help start the lessons all over for our children, with cattle as the teaching tool.
What roadblocks have you run into, and how have you overcome them?
The greatest roadblock I have ever had to overcome … me. The growth from recognizing my strengths and weaknesses and coming to terms with them was formidable for me. I’ve never lacked stubbornness. While that gave me huge motivation and drive, it also kept me on paths that sometimes needed changing. Being honest enough with myself to reevaluate, realign and even reroute was a huge step to becoming the person I wanted to be.
Sometimes, I had to turn around and go back to the fork to take a different path. This represented failure to the younger me, but the woman I am today understands goals can change, I can change, and sometimes, starting over is the best option.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember one person telling me I never needed to worry about regretting not taking advantage of an opportunity. I tend to throw caution to the wind and put myself out there only to get run over by the oncoming train I was too busy to notice. My mom swore the only time I had it in the middle of the road growing up is when I was crossing to the other ditch, and let me tell you, now that I am raising a mini-me, I totally get it.
Watching this little person run around with no hesitation is a bit unnerving. But, the reality is, I wouldn’t be me without all of my experiences, and my mini-me will get all the same lectures I got, I’m sure, but secretly, I’ll just smile and help watch for the train.
What advice would you give to other women in your field?
Define yourself before others do. There are many different environments in the beef industry, but if you have confidence in who you are, you can take yourself anywhere and not only be comfortable, but successful. Women today are taking on new roles that have never before been ours for the taking. This business has a home for each of us; it needs our talents, passion and determination, but you will need to know what these are for yourself.
By learning this, you choose to define yourself. The confidence it takes to evaluate a situation in the moment is powerful when you know where you are and where you want to go. Take the time to learn what drives you, motivates you, calms you and most importantly, what brings you joy.
Do you involve your family in your work?
Absolutely and daily. Our operation is unique in that my husband has the town job with the benefits, and I care for the cattle full time. When we found out we would be a family of three, we made the best decision of our lives – we quit our highly lucrative jobs and returned to the High Plains so I could be a mom.
For the past seven years, I have had the privilege of never missing a day with my kids, unless I chose to. My littles learned to count, know their colors, sing the ABCs and run a crank window all because of time spent in the cab of my pickup. It has been a fantastic fit for us.
Who are other female role models you look up to?
The three generations of mothers before me are my role models. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mom all faced tremendous challenges, from the loss of loved ones to living through the Great Depression, war and times of huge change for women. Though it is just my mom and I now, along with my 5-year-old daughter, we often talk about the lasting impression these women left. I respect each of them for a different reason, and they represent the culmination of what I want to be, what I hope to achieve and who I strive to make proud.
What is your favorite thing about ranch life?
Shipping week. Everything about those days is unique and impossible to recreate without the full battery of events. It’s the bite of the early morning fall air with fog so thick I can’t see the front of the pickup, the smells of coffee and earth, the sound of Jake brakes as the semis come down the hill, the cows bawling at calves, the pens vibrating as the bulls take stock of each other, and the taste of dirt as I bring sort after sort to the front to be loaded out.
It’s the memories of Scott and I dressed in our finest to become man and wife, and my dad asking, “Who gets married during shipping season?” It’s when all the trucks are finally loaded out and the man I love hands me a cold beer and says, “Happy anniversary,” with a cheeky grin.
If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would your job be?
I’m doing what I have always wanted to do, so if it’s not this dream, it better be a great alternative! There are only two other options I would consider: either a rock star or a tour guide of a fantastic Scottish castle. In my previous life before Scott and the kids, I got to live a piece of the dream as a lead singer for a regional band. There is nothing like standing in a spotlight, literally, and watching as people thrive off the sounds you are creating.
As for the castle in Scotland, why not? My mom’s side of the family is full of Campbells, and I’ve been enthralled with the stone walls and the history of clan warriors dressed in plaid. No matter how old you get, there is just something dreamy about castles.