Dairy Women Making An Impact

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we look back at three extraordinary women who are making an impact in the industry. This story was published in our 2018 Fall Special issue.

In an industry that has long be considered a male occupation, we see women rising to the challenge of managing their own farms, or assuming executive positions in major corporations and excelling in these roles. “Women in agriculture” is not just a buzz word anymore as women are encouraged to pursue their goals in this business. While they might not be managing 1000’s of cows, Caroline Pelletier, Amanda Shedd Kennedy and Molly Westwood have one thing in common – they carved out a place for themselves in this industry and are chasing their dreams, showing us that when you aren’t afraid to take risks anything is possible!

Caroline Pelletier is the President and CEO of Missiska Jerseys and the Chief Cheesemaker. Photo supplied.

Caroline Pelletier – Missiska Jerseys & Fromagerie, Quebec, Canada
Caroline grew up on her family dairy farm in Saint-Armand, Quebec, which is located about an hour southeast of Montreal, right next to the USA border. She has been raising purebred Jerseys for the past 20 years. Caroline and her husband Paulin Bard have two children, Emily (6) and Louis (4). Caroline is the President and CEO of Missiska Jerseys, where they milk 35 head of purebred Jersey cows, and received the Jersey Young Achievers Award from Jersey Canada in 2012. She is also the chief cheesemaker at Fromagerie Missiska Inc., where cheddar cheese in both blocks and curds, Jersey Royal – a 10-day ripened soft cheese, and non-homogenized milk are sold.

Amanda Shedd Kennedy – Backroad Creamery, Pennsylvania, USA
Amanda grew up in Mansfield, a small town in north central Pennsylvania. She milked a herd of 50 cows with her dad and brother that was dispersed in 2001. In 2003, she married her husband Jon and started working on his 60-cow family farm. Amanda bought her first registered calf with her dad, Craig Shedd, in 2009 and they began showing together. A few years later, Jon built Amanda a barn and she began milking a few of her own cows there. A parlor, milk house and creamery were added in 2016, which launched Amanda’s current business: Backroad Creamery. She now milks 6-10 purebred Holsteins and turs all of their milk into cheese on the farm, processing between 150-200 lbs of cheese in a week. The main focus is cheese curds, but Amanda also makes 4 kinds of block cheddar and fresh feta. Most of the cheese is marketed locally with 80% being sold wholesale to stores, markets and restaurants. Amanda also attends 5-6 festivals a year selling another 10% of the production, with the final 10% of sales coming from online sales and retail right at the farm. Along with her kids Sara (13), Anna (11) and Jon (5), Amanda continues to exhibit her animals and also boards a few show animals for others as well.

Amanda started Backroad Creamery in 2016 and processes all of her farm’s milk into cheese. Photo supplied.

Molly Westwood – Panda Holsteins, Warwickshire, England
Molly was born and raised on the family dairy farm in Warwickshire, England, which was sold in 2007. She then took up a job opportunity to work at Morsan Farms in Canada at the age of 16. Molly worked there for 4 years looking after their show cattle and sale cattle before returning home with 5 embryos to start up the Panda prefix. Those 5 embryos resulted in her best brood cow who is still alive today – Panda Lexander Fools Gold Red EX93-2E. So far she has bred 5 VG 2 year old’s and 2 All Britain Champions. Today Molly runs a genetic and sales business, keeping just over 60 head of cattle with her father Andrew. In the future she hopes Panda Holsteins will be one of the most recognised prefixes globally.

Tell us about your career. Where has your career path taken you? Have your plans changed from what you originally wanted to do?

Caroline: I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from Laval University with a specialization in Animal sciences. I started my career at an environmental club near the farm with a group of woman in agriculture. They were my first mentors. I was taking care of my Jersey heifers at the same time and dreaming about a beautiful Jersey herd. From 2005-2009, I held a position with the communications and genetics division at CIAQ (Centre d’insémination artificielle due Québec), a branch of Semex. I discovered that I had advertising, marketing and creative ability, and started designing ads for breeders from home, as well as the new Missiska that I’d started with my husband. In 2016, I trained in the microbiology of cheese production, ripening and cheesemaking at École nationale d’industrie laitière ENILBIO de Poligny (France), as well as in safety and wholesomeness at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire’s Saint-Hyacinthe campus. I have been very blessed to start my business after only 10 years after we started milking cows!

Molly Westwood with Panda Heart of Gold Red Now VG-87 (EX-MS). Photo supplied by Jess Westwood

Amanda: My show career has led to a great group of friends around the globe. We have been able to market genetics around the world thanks to these people. That show career ultimately led to me opening the creamery, which has led to a whole new world of opportunities. Locally where I live, there is a great group of local artisan entrepreneurs and we work together to offer a local selection of produce and goods for our community. Growing up, I never knew for certain what I wanted to do, except farm. I knew conventional farming is tough so diversifying my farm was a pretty natural solution. I would have never guessed the rough road that would follow to get me where I am at now. I attended a cheese conference a few years back and listened to Rufus Musser III from Milton Creamery in Milton, IA, speak. He emphasized not to start making cheese only because you see how much money the processor is making. He said it’s a long road to get your cheese on the store shelves, and he was definitely right! Two years in, and my cheese is now in 30 different stores, restaurants, and markets. It’s definitely a group effort to get the cheese into the hands of the consumers.

Molly: Having had a good background knowledge of cow sales, breeding and showing Holsteins I felt I wanted to learn more about the bull side of things so decided to apply for a job at an AI company upon returning to the UK. My full-time job role is a bovine genetics advisor for, formerly Dairy Daughters and now Mastergen. I am responsible for selecting the product line (i.e. bulls), marketing and sales. I really enjoy working with pedigrees and improving genetics for both farmers and myself at home at Panda. My long-term ambition is to work full time at home and continue to develop the Panda prefix. I have always dreamed of breeding the best cattle and will continue to strive for this goal.

What has been the biggest key to your success?
Caroline: Only hard work leads to success, from the day you decide to make concrete plans and put those plans into action. Planning and research, as well as assistance from experts in each area of the project (financial, production, managing), contribute to success. I’m an intuitive woman who listens to the little voice in my head, so when it’s time to move I go forward and don’t look back!

Amanda: There is a lot of factors here. First off, I am determined to make my creamery work. As with most farmers, I can’t imagine doing anything other than farming and working with cows on a daily basis. I am continually pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone, to go after that new account that I’ve been wanting, or to introduce myself to someone who’s inspired me. Marketing and sales are definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve learned a lot about it, and I think it gets a little easier all the time. My family has been truly instrumental to making this work. My husband is always there to support me and help me when I need it, and our girls help me do evening chores, package product and other things when they have time. My faith has also played a big part in where I am. Doing what I am doing can get overwhelming and can be exhausting. I spend a lot of time in prayer and try not to overthink things knowing God is in control.

Molly: For me personally, what you put in is what you get out. Never give up on your dreams, if you keep working hard and don’t let a set-back defeat you, you will succeed. I have always been a big believer that if you want to succeed you have to work hard to earn it, and it means so much more when its down to your efforts and not others. I have a hunger to be the best, those long days of starting at 4:30am and finishing up at 11pm when the weather is miserable seem to surpass when you have a goal to strive and work for. When I go to a show or sale, I always try and watch the people that are successful or have a big name, to see what I can do better.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for women in agriculture?

Caroline oversees all the products made at Missiska, including cheddar cheese, 10-day ripened soft cheese, non-homogenized bottled milk and yogurt.

Caroline: Women are intuitive and multitasking people able to build and lead beautiful projects. Too often, they listen people’s opinion instead of listening their own voice. The biggest challenges are balancing a work/family schedule, especially with young kids! Agriculture is hard physically and emotionally, we deal with early mornings and full time/no vacation for months or even years.

Amanda: I think the agriculture industry is a huge opportunity for women. I feel it is one industry where gender discrimination is really a thing of the past. Everywhere we look, women on the farm are jumping in a tractor and helping with the harvest, taking milking shifts in the parlor, feeding cows, breeding, and even running their own dairies. I have never felt like someone thought I couldn’t do what I am doing because I am a female. I think the opportunities are there for the taking! We bring a unique dynamic to the industry, and I think women everywhere are doing an awesome job portraying that. One of my favorite quotes is “she believed she could, so she did”. The challenges we all face as dairy farmers, regardless of gender, is the public misconception of the industry. This has led to consumption decrease. We need to educate the public as much as we can and open our farms in a responsible way so people can see what we are doing. Another huge challenge we are facing is the number of consumers that are lactose intolerant. We need to find a solution to this! Is A2A2 milk the solution? I’m not sure, but it’s a great place to start.  Selling cheese and dealing with consumers one on one, I see so many people struggling with this – more than I would have ever imagined.

Molly: Being a woman in the dairy industry which is mostly dominated by men is never easy, but I like to be different and I think farmers today are more accepting towards women working in our industry. A couple of personal challenges I have experienced are when I first started selling my stock at the local market, senior farmers were less keen to deal with myself, being a woman. Over the last few years I have gained these senior farmers’ trust and they are a lot more welcoming. I feel women are very thorough in their work and can be very open minded towards challenges faced today. I think there are more opportunities for women today than there has ever been. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter what sex you are – with hard work and determination you can achieve any goal you set yourself!

Have you been presented with other challenges outside the industry and how have you handled them?  Do you feel the challenges have changed over the years – less, more or different?

Caroline: I was challenged by a men’s team construction team that were not always happy to work together. Construction is a marathon that causes lots of stress and anxiety, the actual start-up is another hard run. It was like I was pregnant with my third baby for 2 years! The words I heard most often in the last 6 months were, “you have big balls to take on this enormous project!” I kept taking one step at a time and one year later I feel I accomplished a lot in a period that I thought was too long at the time.

Amanda: The biggest challenge I deal with is marketing. This has gotten easier as my business has grown and people start to recognize my brand. Another challenge I deal with is the changing regulations due to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It’s hard to say at this point just how much it is going to directly affect my business, but I will keep taking the regulations on one at a time and hope that each new one is attainable for my small business.  What might not be a big deal to a big business, can be a game changer for one of my size and we mostly held to the same criteria.

What inspires you to keep moving forward? What people have helped you? What words do you live by?

Caroline: Only people that try can discover how far life can bring you. When your direction is chosen, never doubt it, go forward and listen your instinct.

The results and level that I reach step by step pushes  me, every little victory in a project inspires me to keep moving to the next step, to move forward. Lots of experts helped me to realize the cheese factory project, but the unconditional love of my family and watching my children grow helps me to continue every day. I have to keep in mind the ultimate goals of each project. I have a mentor for my new business and I am surrounded by incredible long time friends. Lots of people have inspired me on this journey and its my turn to give it back to others.

The words I live by are, “After every storm, the sun is shining!”

Amanda: There are a few things that inspire me to keep moving forward. First of all, my love for this dairy industry. The camaraderie, the passion, the devotion, the strive for excellence, is all bar none. When you go to a cow show like World Dairy Expo and feel the energy surrounding the ring, it inspires you!  It makes you believe in what you are doing, constantly striving to breed a better cow and to keep doing better.

On the cheese side of things, I believe I am making a high-quality product. So much heart and soul is poured into every batch of cheese. From milking the cows, to the cheese making process, to packaging, marketing and delivering, my hands are on all of it. I am 100% committed to giving my customers the highest quality product I can, and their positive feedback keeps me going. The support from my community and area businesses are amazing!

Amanda with Ms Danielle S Destiny-ET, 4th Winter Calf at the 2018 Eastern National Holstein Show. She is a Solomon daughter of 3X Nom. All-American Ms D Apple Danielle-Red-ET.

The main inspiration for me is my kids. When I started this business, the love for dairy was evident in my 2 girls. Thinking long-term, I am not sure there will be a future for small dairies 10-15 years down the road. They are 7th generation dairy farmers, and their love for this industry keeps me believing in this dream. Sara told her dad recently, “I’d be proud if I grew up to be like my Mom.” I was so humbled by these words and it reminded me that I have these young kids watching and learning from me.

A lot of people have helped me, but it started with my dad. I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I am doing if it wasn’t for him. He instilled in me a love for dairy animals and a strong work ethic. There are no words to describe how much he means to me and how much I owe to him.

My husband is always there to listen when I need to think out loud, or to bounce ideas off. He is great at giving advice and his honest opinion. He is a problem solver and is quick to do research for me if I am having trouble with cheese. He is also always there when I break something to fix it, or when I need help breaking a heifer. He is an amazing supporter of what I am doing, and is the best partner I could ask for in business and in life. My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader. She is always available to lend an ear and some positive advice when I need it.  Between my parents, in-laws, siblings, and friends, there is always someone to lean on. I am lucky to have a huge support system surrounding me.

Words to live by: “Don’t decrease the goal, increase the effort”. I also refer a lot to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Molly: My ambition to breed and sell the best and have Panda Holsteins as one of the most globally known prefixes is what inspires me every day. I love waking up to milking my small herd and hearing great feedback and success stories from our customers.

One of my biggest role models is Chris Parry who gave me the great opportunity to work in Canada which was one of the best things I ever did. His drive and dedication to succeed is something I admire and I will always be grateful for what he has taught me. My other great role models are my Mum and Dad who sacrificed everything for us when we were little to give us the best upbringing they could.

What words do you live by: “I am too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful and too determined to be defeated.”

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given? What advice would you give to women entering any kind of career path of choice?

Caroline: You only live once. Things happen one after the other, sometimes when you don’t expect them to happen. Do what you love the most and you will never be working.

Amanda: The best advice I was ever given in the barn came from my dad. Being the cow fanatic that I am, I take losing them pretty hard. When a heifer my dad and bought in 2009 died calving, I was devastated. He told me, “I know it’s hard, but always be thankful it’s in the barn and not in the house.” I have lost cows since, and every time, I think of those words and count my blessings.

L-R Molly with her mom Sharon Westwood., Father Andrew Westwood, Twin Sister Jess Westwood, picture taken when Molly was runner up for the Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year 2017. Photo supplied.

The best advice I have received since opening the creamery came from my Uncle Rod. He told me to always be thinking of what the consumer is going to want 10 years down the road and start heading that way now. At first, I wasn’t sure what that meant for me because that is exactly what I thought I was doing, but I find myself thinking of this often and pondering what it could mean for me and the Creamery. I now have a goal for my business in 10 years, and I think it’s important to keep pushing forward and to continue to improve what we are doing.

My advice for young women everywhere is to figure out what drives you. I think if you are doing something you’re passionate about, your chances for success are much higher. Oprah said, “passion is energy”, and I love that because it’s so true. Success takes an immense amount of energy, add passion to the mix and it comes naturally. Mentally, put yourself on an even playing field with everyone around you. Surround yourself with people and friends that challenge you to be a better version of yourself. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and try something new, introduce yourself to people who inspire you and who might be in a position you want to see yourself in someday. Most of all, believe in yourself.

Molly: When it comes to careers, you’ve got to fight for what you want to do. Just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you’ve got to act like one – someone has got to show the men how to do it!