They can be strong and silent, loud but conciliatory or even just down-right mean. Pretty much to the letter, each one has no problem braving snow or heat, prairie fires or blizzards, bad prices or nasty cows. Generally, they are afraid of the IRS though.

But I’ll tell you, there is a specific group of cattle producers no one really cares to mess with. From your first brush with them, you know they will work longer hours than the hand next to them, hold your feet to the fire until they blister and have zero tolerance for the excretion of a male adult bovine. The group I’m alluding to, and hold the highest regard for, is cattlewomen.

As one drug rep told me, and I’ll take the liberty of repeating, the Boss Lady on a ranch or a feedyard is a survivor. She has taken on all the aforementioned hardships, often while running the kitchen, the kids and the church council. She’s taken on the hardest-headed steer and her even harder-headed husband – and won. She may be loud and brassy, or perhaps quiet but firm, but either way she’s the one who gets the job done.

My favorite interaction with the lady foreman came at a South Dakota feedyard. As I pulled in with my pickup, she met me on her four-wheeler. As I introduced myself, she sized me up with an incredulous eye. “You been doing this long?” she asked right out of the gate. Apparently growing a beard wasn’t fooling anyone.

Knowing bluffing was a sure way to get run right down the driveway and down the road, I played it straight. “I’ve been at this a few years,” was the best response I had. She paused for a split second, giving me the first chance to head for the hills if I wasn’t up for the challenge. I stood my ground, because hey, I was raised by one of these prize-fighters, so I knew any sign of weakness shows you are a prey animal.


The short pause was followed by the next volley. “You a real vet?” I understood the question, because I showed up with a feed rep, and she was making it plain she had no time for some talking head. “Yes I am,” was my response.

“Okay, then do you want to come look at this heifer?” she replied.

“Yeah, sure, no problem,” was my answer, which she didn’t seem to expect. So off we went to see a prize show heifer with a lameness issue. I settled into cow-pet doctor mode, which is some type of a cross between a bovine vet and a dog vet. I examined each aspect of the limb in detail with a hands-on approach, while recognizing this animal probably ranks higher on the farm than most of the people. We discussed treatment options, and I suggested some referral centers which would be able to do more specialized orthopedic work than I could out of a pickup.

Now the interesting thing about the lady cow boss is that behind her tough exterior is a person who is a pure delight to converse with. If you can prove you know a thing or two, actually care about her situation and don’t try to blow smoke up anyone’s posterior, then you get the thumbs up. And that’s where I ended the day, in good graces and good spirits. 

Garth Brooks said it best when he sang, “Sometimes the best cowboys ain’t cowboys at all.” I’m proud to say I was raised by one, I’m married to one, and I’m honored to work with their like-hearted cowgirls across the Northern Plains. You’re the toughest cattlemen I know.  end mark

Jacob Geis is a veterinarian and blogger in Freeman, South Dakota.

PHOTO: My wife: a no-nonsense cattlewoman, government veterinarian and expert shot administrator. What a lady. Photo by Jake Geis.