Reclaiming the ranch: Women take on the West

Published: Feb. 17, 2019 at 4:50 PM MST
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The West used to be filled with farms and ranches. However, as times got more modern, many people turned away from the traditional industries, like ranching, for desk jobs.

The Western Slope still has a large agricultural base, and many women are making moves in the field. Janie Vanwinkle and Julie Hansmire are two women in the Grand Valley who have continued the traditions of raising cattle and sheep.

“There’s a lot of honor and dignity in what we do,” said Vanwinkle.

She is a fourth generation cattle rancher, something pretty rare among today’s ranches. The average age for farming and ranching proprietors has gone up in the US. In 2012, the USDA estimates about one million women worked on the land.

“Especially in the sheep industry, it’s traditionally a male-oriented field,” said Hansmire

These women are breaking the barriers society had made for them. They said women have always been on farms and ranches, including Vanwinkle’s mother, who she draws much of her inspiration from.

“Being a girl shouldn’t give you a leg up, but it shouldn’t hold you back,” said Vanwinkle as she quotes the first woman president of the Cattleman’s Association.

They hope to inspire more women to get into the field, so their way of life won’t die off. About 18 percent of farms in Mesa County are run by women, according to the 2012 census, right on par with the rest of the state.

“If not me, then who’s going to? Who’s going to steward the land?” said Vanwinkle.