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Blackduck cattlewoman talks conservation in ranching

A herd of black baldy cattle stand together in falling snow
Rachel Gray
Rachel Gray's cattle on a snowy MN day

After a career in teaching, Rachel Gray returned to her family's ranch, where she now breeds designer cattle in an effort to best serve her buyers and her heifers.

BLACKDUCK — Little Timber Farms, a cattle operation near Blackduck, sells bred heifers to ranchers across the United States.

Owner Rachel Gray uses a personalized business model combining a family history of environmental stewardship with modern technologies and sensibilities. It's a combination that ultimately allows her to be a source for healthy cattle that are a fit for her buyers.

When Gray shops for heifers, she considers their phenotype — that includes strong foot and utter structure and life expectancy. When she breeds her cattle for buyers, she also considers their genotype.

"We want animals to go to Tennessee that are kind of built for Tennessee," Gray said. "They shed their coats early. … Temperature control is important, all of that kind of thing, body type. So we need a different body type in Tennessee than we do in northern Minnesota."

A historically male industry, ranching has seen an increase in women and acceptance of them, Gray noted.

“I think every time I open my Facebook page or I see something else, there's another woman, whether it's somebody middle-aged like me or somebody new and young that's coming to the forefront and saying, 'Hey, I'm in agriculture, too," Gray said. " ... The large operations are primarily run by males. But as far as having acceptance in the industry, it really has not been an issue. It has been fabulous. People are very willing to work with us, work with me."

In this Area Voices, Gray discusses her transition from corralling kids in the classroom to cattle on the ranch, the RIPE Program she’s part of that just received an $80 million grant for conservation efforts, the endearing personalities of cows, and how she hopes to impact future generations of her family with her work.

Area Voices is made possible by the MN Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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Katie Carter started at Northern Community Radio in 2008 as Managing Editor of the station's grant-funded, online news experiment Northern Community Internet. She returned for a second stint in 2016-23. She produced Area Voices showcasing the arts, culture, and history stories of northern Minnesota.