WEST BURLINGTON, N.Y. — Farmer and photographer Megan Ackerman of West Burlington, N.Y., laughs as she says she is the poster child for women in agriculture, “I jump right in and do anything the farm needs.”
But she doesn’t stop with her 120 pairs of Hereford and club calves. Ackerman was the 2012 Big E beef superintendent and official photographer at the agricultural department of the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass. Combining her love of agriculture and photography, she also works for Show Champions (www.showchampions.com), one of the largest agriculture event photography services in the world.
After completing her animal science and communication degree from Kansas State in three years, Ackerman taught at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the communication and ag program. But her heart is with farming and raising the animals.
“It is difficult to finance both animals and land,” Ackerman said. “While at college, I had culled my herd, retaining the best. Since I could move home where the land was available and I had cattle, it was a smart choice.”
Today she is the fifth generation on the farm. Her dad assists with the haying but she completely runs her own business.
“People have a misconception that a girl can’t look nice, and run a farm,” she said.
She runs the cattle through chutes to vaccinate, dehorn and castrate them as well as doing the daily care of feeding, breeding, making hay and marketing.
“It’s a seven-day work week which never ends,” Ackerman said. “Non-ag friends don’t understand why my work day doesn’t end at 5, that I may need to breed a cow or care for one and can’t get to events as they do.”
The goal with her animals is to sell seed stock, bulls and steers with a natural feeding program. She also sells show steers and heifers and starter animals for private herds. Her goal is to have elite genetics. She proudly stated that an overgrown 4-H project has developed into a great herd; she owns a national champion cow-calf pair.
“I have the choice of an office job, or working dawn to dusk and getting dirty — there is nothing better,” Ackerman said.
Her postings of photos of livestock shows lead show champions to her — asking her to photograph for them. Depending upon her availability, she travels to shows across Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Ohio to name a few, to photograph the shows.
“It is an awesome group to work with. It has made me appreciative for good livestock of all species and exposes my ability to judge,” Ackerman said. “Going away makes me appreciative of coming back home. Returning makes me freshly motivated.”
Ackerman loves being in the show ring with her cattle and maintains a show animal for each season.
“Judging, I love that. It is the opposite of showing. Everyone may not agree with me but they understand why I placed as I did,” she said.
Her judging provides the opportunity to travel and meet people. She tries to judge as many shows as possible, working with the youth.
“Growing up on a farm and showing has made me what I am ... I opened up. ... It forced me to speak to others, get over my shyness and do public speaking,” Ackerman said.
“They (friends and family) say I am overextended, but if I am doing it to the best of my ability, I am not overextended,” Ackerman said. “I believe if you’re going to do it, do it right.”
She said she balances the cattle, the shows and the photography, noting, “I want to experience it as long as I can. It’s hard to have a relationship and travel but I someday want a family.”
Ackerman believes that agriculture is part of her and continues to promote it. She also finds the shows are a good opportunity to educate the public about agriculture.
“I love to cook and even in cookbooks I find misconceptions of the reality of how the animals are raised,” she said.
Knowing the industry and actively participating in agriculture has turned Ackerman into a young woman who touches many people with her warmth and sincerity. With an ever-present smile, Ackerman said about agriculture, “It’s a lifestyle, not a job. I love it.”