Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

From CowBelles to CattleWomen: Educating the Public About Beef for More Than 65 Years

By  0 Comments

By Molly Watkins | Photos provided courtesy of CattleWomen

The San Joaquin-Stanislaus CowBelles started in 1957. Some of the charter members of the unit were Katheryn Beckley, Marilyn Lyons, Marilyn Erickson, Dorothy Fitzgerald and Janet Smythe. Many of these women worked alongside their husbands and contributed to decision-making, bookkeeping and ranch work.

The CowBelles were an auxiliary of the California Cattlemen and began in 1951. The women organized to promote the cattle industry and promote cooking with beef. One of the founding activities for all CowBelles was participating in the Beef for Father’s Day program. Beef roasts, equal to the weight of the first baby born on Father’s Day, were presented to new dads in hospitals around the state. The CowBelles worked closely with the California Beef Council to promote and distribute their cattle and cooking publications and educational materials, a practice they continue today.
In 1987, the organization voted to change their name from CowBelles to CattleWomen in cooperation with the change at the national level. California CattleWomen have been very effective on legislative issues, helping to defeat adverse legislation and to promote the passage of friendly bills. There are about 1,800 CattleWomen in California and about 5,000 members in the American National CattleWomen. There are approximately 50 members in the San Joaquin-Stanislaus Chapter.

Many members operate cattle ranches in our county and adjacent counties. Some of the cattle are purebreds such as angus, red angus and shorthorn, but many herds are crossbred cattle. However, some of the members do not own cattle. All the members have a love of agriculture, cattle and eating beef. The CattleWomen’s mission is to promote the beef industry, educate consumers on how to purchase and prepare beef, and teach children the value of cattle in everyday life. They do this by attending events, cooking meals for groups and having a media presence. The members attend student farm days at schools, fairgrounds and in classrooms. They also broaden their visibility by participating in community events such as street fairs, agricultural fairs, museum events, food festivals and conferences. The displays and presentations feature information on animal health, livestock identification, beef by-products, ranch life, nutrition and cooking techniques. Members share information that fascinates listeners from toddlers to senior citizens, such as the fact that gummy candy is made with gelatin and gelatin comes from the bone marrow of cattle. A statistic that piques interest: one cow hide can produce 144 baseballs, 12 basketballs or 15 to 20 footballs.

One of their biggest accomplishments was organizing and serving 85,000 samples of beef at the California State Fair in early 2000s when the fair had a vibrant agricultural building promoting California farm commodities. The members also collaborate with the other agricultural educational groups in both counties to provide fresh beef and produce to all the high school consumer science students. Along with the locally produced ingredients, they provide recipes, handling and storage information and a connection to local farmers for the students and teachers. They continue to expand the classroom resources, giving students more opportunity to cook more days in the classroom. The CattleWomen also provide ingredients that are often out of the school’s budget such as beef, nuts, eggs and cherries. The teachers are grateful for the variety and freshness of the products donated.

In addition to the five meetings throughout the year, the members enjoy an annual Christmas party and participate in the California CattleWomen events and conferences. Learn more about the San Joaquin-Stanislaus CattleWomen at or SJS CattleWomen on Facebook.