On the outskirts of Petaluma, third-generation dairy
rancher Jana McClelland is one of many young people taking that approach. After graduating from college more than 10
years ago, McClelland returned home to her parents’ ranch.
Since then the family has built the farm up to 900 cows, added
an artisanal butter factory and a pumpkin patch, and made the
place a destination offering grass-fed chicken eggs and farm
tours. McClelland won’t take credit for the changes, though.
“The farm is always growing from within,” she says. “Mom
and Dad both always wanted to make products; now that
there are three of us, we have time to do it.”
Though women’s role in ranching has become more promi-
nent in modern times, they have historically played a much
larger role in agriculture than most people realize. Small
family farms truly were just that — farms run by families.
Women raised children, kept house and cooked for large
groups of hired help. Often they also did the books, built
fences and milked cows alongside their husbands, sons and
brothers. Virtually every longtime ranching family has a tale
to tell about the tough women in its past.
“My aunts worked side by side with their brothers in the
family business,” says rancher Ed Grossi. “We have pictures
of them splitting firewood with their father, just doing the
work that men did, and milking cows — they each had to milk
20 to 25 cows a day, by hand.
“If there is any misconception, it is about how really strong
the women of the early generations were,” he adds. “There is
an anecdotal story that there was more than one wife who
helped her husband milk in the morning, had the child after
breakfast and was back in the barn milking again in the afternoon, because they had to be.” M