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RancHER: Janeal Yancey

Published on 24 February 2020
Janeal Yancey

Janeal Yancey is a meat scientist with the University of Arkansas. She grew up showing sheep and hogs in 4-H and FFA but wasn’t involved in the cattle industry until she and her husband married in 2005. She also runs the blog Mom at the Meat Counter

In her words, “I realized that moms are always trying to help each other and support each other. … I wanted to help other moms to feel confident about the food they serve their family and to answer the questions they may have about why we do what we do.” Check out her blog at Mom at the Meat Counter.

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

Yancey: Being a farm kid, I learned the hard work and perseverance lessons that life on the farm teaches kids. I’m raising my own kids on the farm to instill those lessons in them.

However, I’m also trained as a scientist. I can design experiments, conduct research and work in the lab. One thing that scientists understand is: Sometimes an experiment works, and sometimes it does not. In my life, I’m not afraid to try new things and experiment. My husband is also a scientist, and we apply those principles to our farm as well. Some of those experiments have worked (rotational grazing), and others have not.

All of my roles in agriculture involve some type of communication, and being an effective communicator is hard. It might be scientific writing like I was trained to do in graduate school. But teaching is a constant challenge of communication, and the audience is not always engaged or even cares about what you are trying to communicate. My role in consumer outreach is a whole new level of communication, sometimes like translating a whole new language. I feel like my communication skills are constantly changing and evolving.

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

Yancey: I don’t really feel like I have run into any complete roadblocks. When I started my graduate work in meat science, I was one of four women in an office with 14 men. By the time I graduated with my Ph.D. five years later, men and women were equal in numbers. I’ve come into the meats industry at a time when women are becoming more and more a part of the leadership.

There have been times when I’ve felt like I had to speak a little louder to be heard because I’m a woman – but never blocked. I do feel a self-applied pressure to perform because I’m a woman and I know that there are young women looking up to me and depending on me to set a good example for them, just as other women did ahead of me.

Who has influenced you in your leadership role? Why?

Yancey: One of the biggest influencers in my role as a leader was my mother, Pat Stephens. As a kid, I paid very little attention to all that she did, but as I have taken on more leadership roles I find myself trying to replicate her qualities and leadership style. She led through service. She never asked anyone to do something she wasn’t willing to do herself. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or to take charge when it was needed. She was a team player, never worried about getting credit for her work. She put herself last and others first.

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

Yancey: There’s plenty of pie for everyone. Value community over competition.

I’m part of a blogging and writers’ community in Arkansas, and that’s their philosophy. I’ve always been a competitive person, and I still like to do well when I compete for something. But my life became much easier when I realized that life isn’t a competition. There’s no prize for the best blog or the cleanest house. I try to concentrate on what really matters, relationships and community, building others up.

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

Yancey: Get a posse. Surround yourself with women who build you up. Have people you can go to for advice and support.

Also, be a good posse member, a woman who builds others up. Brag on other women. Tell them when you think they are awesome. High tides raise all boats.

Who are other female role models you look up to? Why? (Can be personal or work-related)

Yancey: I have been blessed to get to work with and know quite a few women in animal science and food science academia. Every one of them takes on their role as a woman in the industry and the work-life balance challenges a little bit differently, but none of them are right or wrong. I know there’s no way that I could try to list them all off. I’ve learned that successful women are comfortable in their own skin, willing to work with anyone and not afraid to try new things. Mostly, they are just unashamedly persistent in all they do; in research, in teaching and at home with their families.

How did you end up in the occupation you have now? Is this what you’ve always wanted to do?

Yancey: I became interested in meats through FFA meat judging in high school, but I went to college thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian. Once I got there, I realized all the great opportunities available through meat science, and I changed direction. In graduate school, I realized how much I enjoyed teaching and mentoring students, so I pursued academia. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized how much I loved communicating with consumers and helping other moms learn about the food they serve their families. So it took me a while to figure out where I wanted to be in my career. I may have my next great passion waiting right around the corner, but I’m happy where I am today.

What is your biggest pet peeve on the job?

Yancey: That people think we have something to hide in agriculture. They expect us to have dirty secrets, and we don’t.

What is the best part of your day?

Yancey: When I go pick up my kids from day care or after-school activities, and they come running toward me. I purposely leave my phone and my other distractions behind so I can take it all in.

What is your favorite thing about ranch life?

Yancey: I love raising my kids in agriculture. They are right in the middle of it, feeding cows and calving. Our family time/quality time is in the barn or at livestock shows. Our family works as a team on the ranch and on the kids’ 4-H projects. Sometimes, I feel like we are so busy with all that we do, but I wouldn’t trade that time with my kids for anything. end mark

PHOTO: Janeal Yancey enjoys sharing the occasional #meatcounterselfie on her blog and social media. Photo by Janeal Yancey.

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