Former Washington Simmental Association President, Dr. Sandra Matheson is a leader, educator, and advocate for the agriculture community.
“My earliest memories included spending time in the barn, exploring nearby woods, playing with my pets, and being out with the cattle . . . As a farmer, I feel it is both a great responsibility and an honor to take care of the animals, feed the people, and heal the land. These experiences are the core of my being. They have shaped who I am today, I have always been a farmer, and I expect I always will be.” shares Dr. Sanda Matheson in an excerpt from a book she co-authored called “The Art and Science of Success.”
Matheson grew up in Bellingham, Washington, ten miles below the US-Canada border, situated in the corner of the state near the Salish Sea. When she began her career as a veterinarian, the cattle operation was a side endeavor, originally started by her father, but passed on to her. When Matheson’s health forced her into early retirement from veterinary practice, she turned her focus to the family farm where four generations live today.
“I knew a woman veterinarian growing up. I took it for granted that if she can do it, I can do it, too. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of resistance against women veterinarians at first. Luckily, I watched barriers break down and now it has become much easier for women to practice. I was in a mixed practice, and ended up at a feline practice where I worked until I got sick from the disinfectants and had to quit practice altogether.”
Accredited field professional in holistic management, Matheson says, “It was definitely a rude awakening when I didn’t have my career or my normal paycheck. At that time, the farm was like a very large hobby. It wasn’t making money. One of the first things I did was go through Holistic Management training. I hired a business coach, made a marketing and herd management plan — that really turned everything around. The farm became profitable.”
Registered Simmental heifers and bulls are sold to local producers as replacement stock or show prospects. In addition, grass-fed beef, yak, and farm-fresh eggs are sold from a retail stand every Saturday on the farm. When she was president for the Washington Simmental Association, Matheson helped state association members organize more field days and learning opportunities for juniors.
“It was really a great group of people, I wanted to be involved, and I wanted to help the junior program to grow. I was president for a few years, and it was a rewarding group to be a part of. But with most things, you have your own time and season. I was just starting my transition into the cattle operation full time and handling the business on my own.”
After leaving the WSA Board and growing her farm, Matheson started educating on sustainable, holistic agriculture through an organization called Roots of Resilience. “We are a team of certified Holistic Management educators. As a part of the group, we started an intensive 6-day girl camp to teach animal husbandry, animal care, low-stress animal handling, planned grazing, biological monitoring, how to monitor your land, and plan infrastructure. We pack a lot into a week. I’ve heard from participants that it’s life-changing, and they feel empowered.
“We’ve developed this community of like-minded women who want to get involved in farming and ranching. It’s been really exciting to see where it started and where it’s going.”
In addition to farmwork and teaching, Matheson continues to actively write books and screenplays. This March, her second book, “Thrive After Forty” was published. She summarizes, “It’s a book for people over 40 who, no matter where they are today, can find their purpose, embrace their maturity, seize life, fulfill their bucket list, and live their best possible outcomes.”
Each year, Matheson hires an intern to help her with the daily responsibilities of the farm. In the end, she hopes to help younger generations of farmers and ranchers through internship and mentorship opportunities.
“I encourage people to find a mentor. Study. Go to conferences. Learn as much as you can. Make connections. Sometimes that’s not easy for everybody. I started out being pretty shy, but as I grew in my confidence, I got involved in presentations. I found I love teaching and training. I’m not that shy anymore, but I know it is hard for some people. Just try to go and make those connections at events and to try to stay involved as much as possible in the communities and learn what’s new.”
Ultimately, Matheson’s biggest dream is to create a sustainable living education center on the farm. She concludes, “To me, one of the most rewarding exciting things I’ve done is to get new people started in ranching — being able to develop new skills, tools, and confidence. In the end, I want to know that I’ve made a difference in the world. Whether in many small ways or in a few big ways, that is the legacy I wish to leave.”