Women in Food & Ag: In Her Own Distinct Way, Christina Traeger Sustains Family and Ranch
June 21, 2015 | Abbie Stutzer
Christina Traeger is accustomed to hard work. After all, she runs a cattle ranch.
Traeger has to be tough to survive on her own and make certain her farm animals are happy and healthy. While she has faced a lot of hardships over the years, she’s quite content with her decision to become — and stay — a rancher in Minnesota.
Traeger grew up on a dairy farm about a half-mile down the road from Rolling Hills Traeger Ranch in Avon, Minnesota. Rolling Hills was first owned and operated by her great uncle, but after he was injured in an accident, she bought the ranch and started looking for a breed of cattle to tend.
After a lot of research, she decided to raise British White Beef Cattle. Traeger chose this kind of animal for a few reasons. First, she wanted cattle that would be safe for kids to be around (Traeger’s girls were young at the time). Also, British Whites are known for their hardiness and superior meat.
“Some cattle are 12 years old,” she says. “That’s a benefit of the British White — their longevity is pretty good.”
The cows’ survival is important because they are only profitable after their fourth calf.
“Otherwise, you’re still trying to pay for her production. It’s challenging,” she adds.
Traeger started ranching with just a few head of cattle, but tends to over 100 now. And while she has been working on the ranch for over 15 years, she’s still learning about what’s best for the cows.
For example, Traeger decided to switch her cows to 100 percent grass-fed. She made the big change five years ago, but still observes the cows to see what makes them feel best.
“We’ve been doing this for quite a few years, and every year we tweak something,” she says
Besides raising cattle, Traeger also raises Berkshire (red meat) pork, Cornish Cross chickens, meat-type geese, ducks, and a flock of mixed breed brown and green egg laying hens.
Along with raising her animals on grass, Traeger also is dedicated to running her ranch in the most sustainable way possible.
“We try to do things in a manner that is mindful of our eco-impact,” she says. “We like to have the lowest impact possible.”
To keep things sustainable and low-cost, she farms in a sensible manner and doesn’t overspend on useless, shiny equipment, and new buildings.
“I don’t own a million dollars worth of machinery to produce hay, and don’t have fancy facilities and buildings. My land has a few buildings — they aren’t fancy — they are managed to the point where they will survive” Traeger says.
Another sustainable aspect of her ranch is that her animals are incredibly adaptable. Her land has hills and valleys, which allow her cows to find the most desirable place to be.
“Having cattle that can handle the cold winters in Minnesota and also handle the summers – they do both things. They will self-regulate and are very adaptable.”
Traeger says that Minnesota is filled with a lot of great organizations that are dedicated to helping female farmers and ranchers connect. However, she has run into another problem that many farmers (female and male alike) have: She doesn’t have the time to venture out and attend the potentially helpful events.
”I’m so busy running my operation and trying to provide for my family. I simply don’t have time to be part of things,” she says. “I raised my kids for almost 15 years by myself.”
She’s quite proud of her kids, who are all girls. Through the years, Traeger instilled a deep respect for the land in all three of her children. “They all have a stake in the business; they own their own cows. They helped as they’ve grown up.”
Traeger says that although two of her daughters have left home, they still are part of the farm because their cows are part of the herd. However, her youngest daughter has shown more of an interest in taking over the family business.
“She just has a different personality than the other two and she’s still in high school, but she seems to have more interest in the animals.”
While you may think that a woman rancher may have difficulty handling many of the tools it takes to tend a ranch, Traeger says she doesn’t have a problem. Over the years, she’s discovered that most tools are universal. Also: She’s managed to run her ranch and tend to her cows through trial and error — Traeger has figured out how to ranch in her own distinct way.
“My own ability to figure things out seems to get us further. There are some panels that are shorter and lighter, and designed with women in mind,” she says. “There is a long standing joke that a rancher should never have more work than his wife can handle.”
In the future, Traeger hopes to expand the size of her ranch.
“We have always wanted to have 300 cows, or at least 200 cows,” she says. “But the limitation has been resources and land. We’ve been waiting for some of our nearest neighbors to get to their retirement age. They don’t have successors. But now, our challenge is trying to get some funding to purchase some of the land because land has got to be quite valuable.”
Although Traeger wants to expand her ranch, her overall goal is to keep raising healthy cows.
“Continuing to raise the cattle to make them as good as possible, and advertise them, and get the word out that they are different, that’s our goal.”