Carrying the Load
Women running farms is nothing new, though more younger women are doing so now than ever before. Little did Crowder College graduate Jennifer Wilson realize that before she was married to Jake for five years, she would be running their 180-acre farm by herself while working full-time at the local Cooper’s Café in her hometown of Anderson, Mo.
Though the couple had known who each other was, they really became acquainted when Jake started a Facebook conversation. That conversation led first to dinner and a movie, then engagement and finally marriage five years ago.
Jake was a welder, and the couple had settled comfortably on 180 acres originally owned by his grandfather Dallas, which was put into a trust for Dallas’ grandchildren. The Wilson’s 35 commercial cows are truly mixed: Angus, Hereford, Charolais and even a little Holstein. Then Jake left in January for a pipeline welding job in Texas that made even weekend trips home impossible. Though Jennifer came into the marriage with six bred cows of her own and some experience from working with her father, Larry Carlin, she was not prepared for total herd and land management.
Before Jake receive the land, his father, Cameron, had been a casual caretaker with little passion for farming. When Jake and Jennifer became engaged, they started clearing the overgrown land and developing a communal herd. Last summer a government program was used to help them with cross fencing which meant they didn’t hay especially since they had enough stored up.
Grandfather Dallas is happy because someone is showing a sincere, dedicated interest in continuing the farm he started. He set up the trust so that none of his grandchildren could sell their share of the land until they were 40. Even then, they had to offer the others first right of refusal at a fair market price, with Dallas hoping that restriction also allowed whoever was interested in farming time to build up enough equity to purchase the unwanted acres. Jake and Jennifer have that passion.
“Dad always worked on a farm, but I never thought I would be doing what I am now. Having farming roots really helps,” Jennifer said. “If I’d been raised as a city kid, I could never do this. However, I was raised with some farming knowledge but, even more importantly, with the hard work ethic farming requires.”
Jake and Jennifer had two bulls, an Angus and a Charolais. The Charolais has since been replaced with a Santa Getrudis bull from Jennifer’s father. For simplicity’s sake, the bulls are with the herd year round and, fortunately, the couple hasn’t had any birthing issues. Salt blocks and loose mineral are self choice with a 9 percent protein feed used to supplement winter grazing. The farm has a wet weather creek and two live springs, as well as one pond that keep the cattle well watered.
“To be truthful, I couldn’t do this without my dad who helps whenever I need help,” Jennifer said.
Some of the things Jennifer needs help with are rounding up the cattle, working them, learning more about cattle health and knowing what to do and when to do it. The cattle are typically worked every three months, with the oldest calves being sold at that time.
Working consists of administering black leg vaccine, dehorning, worming and banding bull calves, which is a process Jennifer much prefers because she didn’t like the emasculator. “Those momma cows are crazy, and I will not gather them up or work them by myself because I don’t want to get hurt,” Jennifer said.
With Jake gone, Larry advises Jennifer when it’s time to wean the calves and which ones to sell. The calves are sold in Exeter or Joplin, depending upon the day they are gathered.
When possible, Jennifer tries to keep the heifers for replacement and herd building.
This year Jennifer plans on raising Johnson, fescue and mixed grass hay again, forgoing fertilizing this spring because of time constraints but spraying for weeds.
“My husband would kill me if I didn’t do that,” Jennifer said with a laugh. “Haying will be a challenge for me because running the new tractor is a tricky subject.”
Like most young couples, the Wilson’s have goals. One is to expand pasture by clearing land using her father’s dozer to get rid of more trees and then adding more electric cross fences in order to rotate more efficiently. Jake wants to eventually increase the herd to 200 momma cows and to add chickens like Jennifer’s grandfather Joe and her father. Jake’s long term goal is to become a full-time farmer while keeping welding part of his life.
“God helps us take care of what we need to do, and Jake and I try to do what Jesus would do every step of the way,” Jennifer said. “More women need to realize we have much to offer in agriculture because God made us the way we are for a reason. We need to do whatever it takes to get in there and help, sometimes even if it is just hanging out with the guys.”