The many titles of the modern farmwoman
Dairy farmers like Julia Booijink have many labels. Mom, wife, producer, and business owner are just a few of them.
Julia Booijink was a woman in agriculture before the label ‘women in ag’ even existed.
At the age of 34, the dairy farmer already has a long list of accomplishments under her belt including earning an animal science degree from the University of Guelph, buying and single handedly running her own dairy farm, and building a solid career in dairy genetics.
All of this was completed before she met and married her husband Thomas, merged their two dairy herds together, and gave birth to a daughter Felicity and later, a son Tyson.
“Right from day one I knew I wanted to work in the agriculture industry either as a farmer or in some other role,” Booijink told me during our recent interview.
Booijink grew up on her family dairy farm in Lanark County just outside of Almonte.
She is the oldest of four siblings and said she was always in the barn from day one.
“I used to beg my parents to go away so I could do the milking for them,” she said laughing but not joking.
Her passion for cows moved her through the 4-H program- where she completed an impressive 68 projects- and eventually to U of Guelph to get her degree.
It was during her post-secondary schooling Booijink said she realized for the first time just how many opportunities existed in the Ontario agriculture sector.
“Seeing the whole science behind the industry intrigued me, got me hooked and further developed my passion for ag,” Booijink said.
After university, Booijink took a job in the artificial insemination field with Select Sires, purchased her parents cows and quota, and solely set up a dairy farm on a rented property in Woodstock.
It was during her early days in A.I. Booijink had her first real encounter with sexism within the industry.
“A dairy farmer on one of the very first breeding calls I did told me he didn’t want me touching his cows. He wanted to wait until a guy was available. I was thrown by that,” she said.
Luckily, Booijink said that was an isolated incident and the dairy industry has been “very supportive” overall.
In 2014, after moving her cows to three different locations across the province, Booijink and her husband merged their herds and officially formed Jamink Farms in St. Andrews West in Eastern Ontario.
Today, the farming couple milks 85 cows, a mix of Holstein and Jersey, in a robotic facility that was built in 2016.
The lack of available labour in the sector was one of the main reasons for automating the operation.
Booijink continues to work for Select Sires, now as a reproductive specialist, so having an off-farm job required flexibility at home.
When asked what her primary role is on the farm, Booijink said she could be found wearing at least seven different hats over the course of a day.
She labels herself as a mother and wife first and a 50/50 farming partner with her husband next.
Booijink said she loves being a mom and loves being a farmer but she “needs to be a farmer,” a sentiment many women in ag could relate to.
Finding a balance between her roles is challenging even when you have a partner that is equal on all fronts.
Accepting the fact that no matter what you do, some tasks are just not going to get done before bed has helped the mother of two adjust.
So has reaching out for support whether it’s to her own mother or to the women she interacts with virtually in the Ag Women’s Network (AWN).
Booijink has been a member of the AWN since 2013.
Currently on a full-year maternity leave from her off-farm job, Booijink is reaching out for support more than ever as the daily tasks of running a farm don’t go on hold just because you have a baby.
She spoke passionately about the unique position new farm moms experience after giving birth.
“Farm women don’t get a maternity leave and to me that’s so wrong. I don’t even know where to begin with this topic,” she said.
Booijink talked candidly about how women in non-farming sectors are permitted to take one full year off from work after they deliver a baby.
This time can be spent navigating the excitement and exhaustion of becoming a new parent.
“They get a full year and they’re compensated. One hundred per cent of the attention can be placed on parenting if that’s what they choose to do. The same cannot be said for women who own a farm.”
In Ontario, a woman would have to be paying into the employment insurance (EI) program prior to becoming a parent in order to qualify for compensation during a maternity leave.
Although, farm owners are eligible to pay into EI (and therefore can draw payments when not working) many farmers choose not to do so for a variety of reasons.
Some accountants even say it’s not worth farm owners paying into EI solely for parental leave because once the contributions start they keep going until that person is no longer involved in the business.
In the farming world that could literally be decades while the childbearing years are only a small portion of that.
Booijink said she is grateful for the year of maternity leave she received from Select Sires after the birth of her daughter and now again with her son.
She recollected how much of her first maternity leave was spent running between two farms before her and her husband merged herds.
“It was chaos,” Booijink said.
Now, seven months into her second maternity leave the experience is somewhat similar although a little easier now that all of the cows are at one farm.
Booijink continued on the topic by saying even when farmwomen do get a paid maternity leave from an off-farm job they’re still likely contributing to the endless list of farm tasks that need to be done.
Once again, something many women in other sectors aren’t responsible for.
Booijink said she doesn’t have the solution to a problem so big and admitted it would take a much bigger conversation to come up with a plan that worked for everyone.
There’s also the case that many farmers love what they do so much they wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world regardless of the perks.
Booijink falls into this category.
“I always thought raising a family on a farm would be amazing and it is. I love the lifestyle and taking my kids to the barn every day,” she said.
If you want to get in touch with Julia, you can connect with her on Twitter @julesaggie
“It’s moments like that and the freedom that comes with running your own business that make it worthwhile.”