For Women’s History Month, First National Bank is profiling outstanding women in male-dominated or stereotypically male industries. Check out our other “Women in Business” features!
“The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is the stigma around women working on farms. Proving I can do my job just as well or even better than my male counterparts is a theme that doesn’t ever seem to change.”
Kelsey Geraets, feedlot manager at JPJ Enterprises Inc., was born to work with cattle.
Growing up on her parents’ farm, she had plenty of experiences over the years that helped to foster her love for livestock.
“My earliest and fondest memories on the farm were always centered around bottle calves,” Kelsey said. “In high school, I started retaining calves from the cull cows we were feeding and raised them to market weight. I was hooked and, from then on, knew I was going to pursue a degree in animal agriculture.”
True to her word, Kelsey earned a degree in animal science and agricultural science with minors in ag business and ag marketing from South Dakota State University.
After her graduation, Kelsey’s parents offered her a job on their farm — an operation that consists of a 2,000-head feedlot; corn, soybean, wheat, and alfalfa production; and a small ethanol plant.
Kelsey took the job and, in her three years as feedlot manager, hasn’t looked back since.
“I love cattle,” Kelsey said. “It’s fascinating how they can take non-edible feedstuffs for people and make it into one of the most nutrient-dense sources of protein we can put in our bodies. The challenge of feeding livestock drives me to go to work every day.”
As a feedlot manager, Kelsey is responsible for feeding 2,000 cattle twice a day and maintaining their general care in between those feedings.
But, aside from the daily challenges that come with raising healthy livestock, Kelsey also faces personal challenges as a woman in agriculture.
“I’m a 120-pound woman working with animals 10 times my size,” Kelsey said. “‘Not a lot of girls feed cattle’ is a line I’ve heard all too often. It’s the first thing people comment on when they find out what I do for a living.”
And while women made up only 28.3% of the agricultural workforce in 2022 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023), Kelsey believes that women are actually a perfect fit for the cattle industry.
“Women have that feminine touch when it comes to livestock, in my opinion,” Kelsey said. “The maternal instinct, the patience, and the attention to detail that women excel at in other occupations very much apply to animal agriculture as well. These qualities make my job of reading cattle much easier.”
That being said, she acknowledges that any woman looking to work in agriculture will likely have to overcome doubt from others — just as Kelsey has endured an enormous amount of doubt herself.
“Many delivery drivers doubt that I can unload pallets, many truck drivers doubt that I can load and unload cattle trailers,” Kelsey said, “and many people doubted that I could go back to the farm. The expression of doubt can be draining, but I just make it a priority to prove them wrong daily.”
That’s why some of the best advice Kelsey can give other women looking to work in agriculture is to have thick skin.
“You’ll hear some pretty hurtful things from people who doubt you,” Kelsey said. “These things can either break you down or can be used to keep you going.”
In Kelsey’s case, she has mastered the art of using that doubt and those hurtful comments to light a fire inside of her.
Because at the end of the day, a chip on her shoulder only makes her work harder.
“No matter what people say, keep pushing,” Kelsey said. “Prove them wrong. Women deserve a seat at the table, so show them your seat should be at the head of the table — or, in this case, the operator’s seat.”
Check out our other “Women in Business” features:
- Taylor Elverson sets example for representation in agriculture
- Kae Klinkenborg brings passion for design to facility management
- Sarah Atchison values hard work, teamwork in manufacturing
- Sarah Madison challenges assumptions, advocates for women in investing
- Kari Karst creates opportunities for others in construction
- Jill Mockler exemplifies leadership in business banking