This last year I had the opportunity to do a keynote talk at the Nebraska Youth Beef Leadership Symposium (NYBLS). One of the attendees was an inquisitive high school senior who was graduating this spring from Blair High School. I love working with females who have an interest in pursuing ag, and Makenna joined the team this summer for an internship.

I was a little hesitant at first, as our lack of tenant housing meant she was not only working with me but living with me. But I’m glad I took the chance. Not only does she have an amazing future ahead of her, she’s become part of our operation.

I’ll miss her when she heads back to the eastern part of the state this week, but I feel confident in knowing that with students like her, the future of ag is bright.

I like to constantly challenge her and push her outside of her comfort zone, so told her she is writing the column this week:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This always seems to be the question I’d love to answer whenever someone would ask. Most would expect a blonde-haired, blue eyed, 18-year-old girl to say something along the lines of a teacher or a nurse, perhaps even a lawyer. My answer would be the one you never expect. From the time I was 8 years old, I would say that I want to take over my grandfather’s feedlot operation and open my own veterinary practice. From a very young age, I found that the place where I was most happy was around animals, especially horses and cattle.

As I got into high school, I began to learn more about agriculture and the future it faced — with plant-based meat becoming the new face of restaurants across the country and myths that cattle were the reason we were experiencing global warming. I knew that I had to learn everything I could to get the message out to the world about how amazing agriculture is not only in the United States, but here right in my home state of Nebraska.

On May 31, I left for Lakeside, Nebraska. It was a six hour drive across the state to learn more about a business called Wilson Ranch, run in part by Jaclyn Wilson. During my first couple weeks, the job involved was going out in the morning checking pastures. Since I had come at the end of calving season, most of the calves were born, tagged and ready to be paired, then sorted to their new pastures.

Moving pairs wasn’t always the easiest. Calves would usually start lagging behind and would sometimes want to run back to the old pasture — making a one-hour move into a three-hour move. I learned very quickly that most of the time, you are on the cow’s schedule, not your own.

Every so often there is a cow that has twins and only takes one, or a cow will have a bad bag and not let her calf nurse. This was one of my first big projects in my internship — to bottle feed not one, but two calves. Each needed a bottle twice a day, and feeding time was always a fighting frenzy. One calf would finish his bottle before the other and would try to steal the other’s bottle. By the time I was done feeding the two their bottles and feeding the other pairs in the barn, I was covered in calf slobber.

It was definitely a change of scenery working with other women. I came from a male-dominated feedlot operation where I was the only female, and I wasn’t allowed to do much since most of the men would do it for me. Yes, I still gave shots, checked pens on horseback and sorted cattle. But I kept feeling held back. I knew that I could do more, but I either wasn’t strong enough or the fact that I was a girl came into play.

Working for Jaclyn, I was thrown into a lot of new situations. I got to work with women who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty when it comes to hard work. It was nice to be able to jump in and work right alongside them, learning things from driving a manual to delivering beef.

Throughout my internship at Wilson Ranch, I not only gained new skills, but I’ve grown as an individual. I learned that some days might not be that exciting on the ranch, but there is always work that needs to be done, regardless of what it involves. No matter what the day brings, I always look forward to what each situation has to offer when it comes to learning something new.

I plan to continue using the skills that I have learned going into college so that I may become successful in my dreams and goals.

Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.   

Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.