Posted by: Through the Eyes of Women | December 5, 2011

December 5, 2011 and December 12, 2011 Host Kathleen Marshall Presents Part One of a Two-Part Series on Women in Ranching. Featuring Calisa Holm (part-one) and Shail Pec-Crouse (part-two)

What do you think of when someone mentions ranching?  I’ll bet you picture a man.  He’s rugged.  His hands are callused. He’s sitting tall in the saddle driving his herd of cattle across a prairie or into a corral.  While it is true that the history of ranching is dominated by men and there is little documentation of women working the cattle trails of the Old West, it is also true that pioneer women, particularly the family members of men who owned small ranches, did plenty of ranch work.  They rode horses and were equally adept at ranch chores.  They were rugged and their hands were callused.

Cowgirls began to gain more public notoriety in the early 20th Century.  The widespread popularity of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows, which often featured female performers demonstrating horseback riding, trick roping and expert marksmanship, brought the cowgirl into the spotlight.  Many of these women, skilled and certainly breaking the cowboy mould came from a life of ranching, though few actually owned or managed a ranch.

But times have changed.  More and more women now own and/or manage ranches. According to current U.S. Department of Agriculture Fact Sheets, female ownership of farms, including ranches, has increased 80% in the last 5 years.  Between the years 2006 and 2008 female ownership increased by almost 100,000 nationally.  In California alone, between 2008 and 2010, female ownership of farms and ranches increased by over 1,000.

Humboldt County is no exception.  Our culture of independence has fostered a strengthening movement towards reestablishing Humboldt County as a major supplier of food for local, regional and sometimes national consumption.  We have seen an increase in the number of farmers, and ranchers, in our area, many of them women.

In this two-part series we will meet two such remarkable women; one a conventional cattle rancher with deep roots in the community, the other a relative newcomer to both ranching and to Humboldt County, developing the art of organic diversified animal husbandry.

In part-one you’ll hear the story of Calisa Holm whose early childhood was spent on a ranch in a neighboring county.  It was there that she learned to value the rugged though often challenging world of ranching.  Her life’s path led her to Humboldt State University, where she enrolled through the Indian Education program and graduated with a multi-subjects teaching degree.  It was while attending HSU that she met and married her late husband who reintroduced her to the joys and trials of ranching. Since his untimely passing 8 years ago she has run their ranch, Redwood Creek Ranch, while continuing to teach full-time at Pacific Union School, with the ultimate goal of passing on the ranching reins to her, now adult, children.

Part-two features Shail Pec-Crouse, who, in 2005, was facing her final year at HSU without a clue as to what she wanted to do with her biology degree.  Hearing of an acquaintance planning to start a business supplying locally raised organic chicken she proposed a partnership.  They started Wild Chick Farm with first-place funds from their win in the Spring 2005 Economic Fuel Competition.  Later Shail, feeling strongly that she wanted to reduce her dependence on fossil fuels (there is no local source of organic poultry feed) decided to explore the possibilities of grass-fed animal husbandry and started her own farm.  Tule Fog Farm is situated in the Arcata Bottom on 26 acres, where Shail raises cows, goats, sheep, some poultry (seasonal heirloom turkey will be her only poultry offering in the future), and last but not least, kune kune pigs, the only pig in the world that can thrive on an all grass diet.

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