As part of my travels to and for the Ag-Ceptional Women’s Conference in Norfolk, Nebraska, last fall I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing quite a few Nebraksa FarmHers. One of those women was Joan Ruskamp. I arrived to the feedlot that Joan owns and operates with her husband Steve near the small town of Dodge, Nebraska, on a crisp early fall morning. We had barely said our hellos when her two way radio lit up, notifying them about a few calves that had gotten out of a pen. Joan took off on her new “horse” (4-wheeler) along with Steve and before I could even snap a picture they had the little guys rounded up and back in the pen, safe and sound. I followed Joan back down the hill to their office where she told me the agenda for her morning.
She started running her regular, early morning cattle checks, walking slowly along the large enclosures full of cattle, all pushing forward to get a peek of her and hear her soothing words. As she walked along the edge of that first pen, the sun was just rising over a distant hill, casting a beautiful golden glow over the cattle. She moved slowly but steadily and took everything in with a carefully trained eye, making sure no cow had gotten sick or injured during the night. She talked to them in a soft, melodic voice, “hey boys, good morning boys” over and over as she walked the expanse of the large lot. From there she repeated the same checks in other pens, carefully checking the cattle they keep.
Following the cattle checks, I accompanied Joan to a separate area of the farm, designated for sick or injured cattle. There she checked each cow and gave them some fresh hay. Next Joan showed me the medical barn, where they treat cattle who are in need of care. Smiling, Joan explained the system she designed to keep the cattle calm and comfortable, based on the teachings of Dr. Temple Grandin. It is clear that this FarmHer’s strength is in how she cares for the cattle; a trait that shows through in her everyday work.