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RancHER: Susan Russell

Published on 25 January 2021
Susan Russell

Susan Russell and her husband, Curtis, own and operate Reflected R Ranch near Sugar City, Colorado. She grew up on her family’s seedstock cattle and grain operation in south-central Kansas and has been part of the beef industry her whole life.

Outside of ranching, she has worked as an editor on various livestock publications and currently serves as the Colorado Simmental Association secretary/treasurer and as an American Simmental Association SimSpecialist.

How have your experiences working in your field influenced your growth, personally and professionally?

Interaction with others creates an opportunity to listen, learn and communicate.

I honed better skill in my careers as a newspaper editor and as a retail ag business owner. Observing, absorbing and listening each helped me develop a stronger insight into others, whether it was an employee, a peer or a customer.

While my experiences have allowed me to lead, they also give me a chance to pay it forward, plus grant me an opportunity to continue to grow.

What roadblocks have you run into, and how have you overcome them?

During the era I competed in collegiate livestock judging, few women participated. Likewise, when I served as an executive committee member and trustee on the American Simmental Association board for six years, there were very few women who preceded me.

Even serving as a current breed rep, I am the only woman on the national team, and sometimes I am asked to serve cookies rather than discuss genetics or evaluate animals.

I believe that these examples are a mere speed bump. A person should strive to be good at his/her job. Tasks aren’t divided by gender; there’s just work to be done. Period. Play to your strengths – then it isn’t a roadblock.

Who has influenced you in your leadership role?

I have been fortunate to have had outstanding tutors who counseled and molded my life.

My parents, George and Lois Schlickau, were my strongest mentors and cheerleaders. They both shined in national agricultural leadership positions, in addition to farm, ranch and community work. They instilled in me the importance of faith, family and hard work.

What advice would you give to other women in your field?

I believe in the philosophy that you should be open to learning something new daily. There are wiser mentors at every turn. Keep learning. Regardless of the immediate task, keep your eye on your goal.

Who are other female role models you look up to?

I have been fortunate to have several role models to pattern my life after. I admire so many, often clad in Carhartts and muck boots, such as Betsy Brown of 3R Ranch and Flo Jackson of Smoky Rim Ranch. When young, the two women who shaped my ideals were:

  • Thelma Rathke Sheridan – Thelma and her first husband, Alan, ran the Rathke’s historic ranch in Colorado. Alan was struck with polio, so all the physical demands fell to Thelma, who carried on with grit and determination. Growing up, the pair consigned show steer prospects to my family’s annual production sale in Kansas, so I observed Thelma’s good humor and abilities. Thelma, who passed in 2015, was a remarkable example of a rancher, not a ranch wife.

  • Lois Schlickau – My mother was the first woman to be elected to the Kansas Board of Agriculture. Then in 1988, for the first time in the board’s 116-year history, they elected a women president – my mother. She was even elected to a second term as president. Likewise, she was the first woman to serve on the Kansas State Fair board, and the first woman to serve as president on that board. She was and continues to be an example of community involvement and leadership, coupled with agriculture.

What is your favorite thing about ranch life?

Calving is my favorite time of year. I love seeing the fruits of our planned matings hitting the ground. Twice daily in February and March, my husband and I do pasture sweeps together, where we find calves scattered throughout our 400-acre home pasture where we calve. I especially enjoy watching the week-old calves as they race through the pasture – with their tails like a kite flying behind them – in a game of calf tag. They provide my “perfect office view.”

What is your North Star?

There are so many industry leaders who have greatly contributed to the beef business, but for me, my “North Star” is simply my faith and family. I am fortunate to have a true partner and soul mate and a supportive family. We are blessed to live in a free, prosperous country. We live “socially distanced” by design, so we may relish a peaceful rural lifestyle and enjoy God’s handiwork.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Whenever going out, my dad would say: “Remember who you are.” Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t a warning to be good. Rather, depending on the circumstances, he was reminding me … To take the higher road. To not follow the crowd down a wrong path. To stand by my faith. To show honesty and integrity. To represent the family or 4-H or agriculture to the best of my ability. To be a leader.

What advice would you give to other women in your field? 

I believe in the philosophy that you should be open to learning something new daily. There are wiser mentors at every turn. Keep learning. Regardless of the immediate task, keep your eye on your goal.  end mark

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