Thursday, 18 April 2013 09:11

Nanton resident traces women’s roots in ranching

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Riding one of her horses around the ranch near Nanton is one of Rachel Herbert’s favourite things to do along with taking care of her two children and helping out her husband. She’s going into her sixth year of ranching, raising grass-fed cattle. Riding one of her horses around the ranch near Nanton is one of Rachel Herbert’s favourite things to do along with taking care of her two children and helping out her husband. She’s going into her sixth year of ranching, raising grass-fed cattle. Photo submitted

Ranching has always seemed to be a “man’s job,” but what many people don’t know, is there are many historical women ranchers too.


Rachel Herbert wrote a 200-page thesis on Ranching Women in Southern Alberta for her Masters degree in history.  She finished her work in 2011.
Herbert’s family background was a large reason why she chose this particular thesis topic. Her family has been ranching in the Nanton area since the 1880s.
Growing up in Calgary, Herbert was never directly involved in ranching, but she often visited family on the ranch and learned about the family heritage. 
Once she began university, she realized there was no history that mentioned women in the cattle and ranching industry even though she knew there were women involved.
Herbert wanted to do some research and inform people that women are and always have been involved in the cattle industry.
So far, Herbert has presented her thesis at several academic conferences and at a private event near Nanton.
“I’m working on turning it into a manuscript for publication, but it’s not in book form yet, but I sure hope it’s going to be soon,” says Herbert.
As Herbert started researching for her thesis, she was astounded by the lack of mention of ranching women in southern Alberta. People hear about women farmers, but nothing about women involved in the cattle industry.
“As I got going and doing my research I just started discovering story after story after story,” says Herbert.
She wants to give women collective a voice to share real life stories of ranching. She wants women to be recognized for their work as well.
“I tried to use a lot of women’s primary materials, so using women’s words … really, women just haven’t had a voice in their own words in history, so trying to get some of their stories out there would be the reason to read it,” says Herbert.
She has been living near Nanton for about 10 years on the Trails End Beef ranch. She, along with her husband Tyler, raise grass-fed and grass-finished beef and they direct market grass-finished beef. 
The ranch has been operational for about six years. Having a two-year-old and a four-year-old, Herbert takes care of her children while helping play an important role on the family ranch with her husband.
“Probably going through my thesis, one of the themes that I really emphasized was that …it’s been women’s involvement, and this is sort of my central argument was that it’s women’s roles on family ranches that have made ranching viable and sustainable as an industry in Alberta,” explains Herbert.
She emphasized the partnership aspect of ranching. Men and women need to work together on a ranch to be successful.
Using Glenbow archives, doing numerous interviews with descendants, reading local histories and using family documents all played parts in researching her thesis.
“I definitely hope that women or that people would learn more about ranching women.”
Herbert talked to a teacher about her thesis and he thinks it should be included in the curriculum for all students to learn about. It’s an important topic and could be influential for young women in especially rural areas to know that women have always been a vital part of agriculture.
Herbert began her Masters in 2006 and finished it in 2011 at the University of Calgary. In that time she took a few leaves of absences due to the loss of a brother, the birth of her two children and starting a ranch.
“All of that stuff (family obstacles and chapters in my life) made me very much relate with the women that I was reading about, because all of them were multi-tasking all the time. That’s sort of always been ranch women’s roles on the farm is to juggle the house and all of the outside stuff too,” says Herbert.

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