Jeannette Sheehan is World Dairy Expo’s 2018 Dairy Woman of the Year!
Jeannette Sheehan is no stranger to World Dairy Expo as a long time 4-H Judging Coach and Leader, she has been an official for the judging contest on the world’s largest stage. In 2016 she again stood on the colored shavings, but this time in the center of the ring at the Grand International Holstein Show when she led her homebred cow, Sheeknoll Durham Arrow, to Grand Champion honors.
This year she’s back for a different reason, to receive her “Dairy Woman of the Year” Award, a recognition that has been given out to extraordinary women in the dairy industry since 1973. Cowsmo had a chance to catch up with Jeannette at Expo to chat about the honor and of course what it’s like to lead an Expo Grand Champion!
Tell us about your family and your farm.
JS: We dairy southeast of the town of Rochester, Minnesota. My husband Bob and I are in partnership with his brother and nephews. They manage a 230-cow freestall facility and Bob and I manage a 60-cow tiestall facility. We have three children, Kelly, Andrew and Krista, and seven grandchildren.
What sorts of projects are you involved with in the Minnesota dairy scene?
JS: I’ve been a 4-H Leader for many years and helped kids with showing cattle, as well as a dairy judging coach. I’ve been involved with “Ag in the Classroom” for about 15-20 years. Rochester is very urban, especially with the Mayo Clinic nearby, so people really want to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated. In response to that we started the Miracle of Birth Center which is mimicked after the one they do at the Minnesota State Fair, but a 5-day version. We have cows calving, farrow pigs, hatching chicks and baby goats. The public is excited about watching a birth and there are a lot of medical people in town because of the Mayo Clinic, which is pretty neat.
Have you faced challenges being a woman in the dairy industry?
JS: I was a “woman in agriculture” when I was in college although it wasn’t really labelled at the time. I always had a passion for dairy farming and I was very lucky that my parents were agreeable about that passion and always told me, “you can do whatever you want, just do it well.” I always just kind of did my own thing and now being a woman in the dairy business is more accepted. I’ve prided myself on doing what I wanted to do, and I was thankfully given the opportunities to keep moving forward.
I met my husband in college and we coached dairy judging together and have always strived to breed cows that looked good, had good feet and legs, and could pay the bills. We’ve had the opportunity to raise three kids on the farm and now we have grandchildren that are interested which is exciting too.
Talk about Arrow’s win at the 2016 World Dairy Expo and what it was like to lead her on the colored shavings!
JS: Arrow was given the name “Thomas” by my nephew Dillon, who was 4 at the time, when she was calf and it just stuck. We showed Thomas at Expo in 2014 as a 4 year old and she was 15th. In 2015 she was pregnant and got black night shade poisoning and we thought we were going to lose her. But she’s tenacious and she got up again and managed to retain her pregnancy which was impressive and calved in fine. We took her to the Minnesota State Show in 2016 and she was Grand, but at that point we still had no plans for Expo.
A week before the state show my father passed away. Thomas had always been very special to him because she lived up at my parent’s place for a while when she was a calf, that’s where my nephew worked with her. Thomas lived in a hutch right next to the house and she knew when my parents were having breakfast! She’d bawl, and my dad would bring her some milk right away. My dad was really worried when she got sick, so it was really special when she won at the State Show first.
It really took a team to get Thomas to Expo. My son Andrew was very diligent in her summer diet and was instrumental in getting her ready. The moment she was tapped Grand Champion was magical!
You are now the WDE Dairy Women of the Year, how does it feel?
JS: It’s pretty amazing! When they first called I thought, “wow! Really? Me?”. The group of winners is a very elite group. I know that Harriet Brown was quite influential in the decision, she’s a past winner who raised her family on the farm after her husband died. There are lots of dairy women in this industry who are just as deserving and to represent that group is pretty humbling. I guess I never really thought about all the things I’ve done in the dairy industry, so this award kind of puts everything in perspective – what we’ve done as a family and where we’ve been. It makes me feel accomplished, like now it’s ok to retire!