Women in Ag: County Extension Agent, Sarah Baker

Sarah Baker grew up on the East Fork of the Salmon River and is the 6th generation on her family’s cattle ranching operation. Sarah graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Agriculture Business from the College of Southern Idaho in 1999, a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Range Livestock Management from the University of Idaho (UI) in 2002, and a Master’s of Science degree in Meat Science from UI in 2004. Following graduation, Sarah worked for the Idaho Beef Council for more than 4 years as the Program Director, before moving back to her family’s ranch. She currently works for the University of Idaho Extension and serves as the “County Agent” in Custer County. 

How are you involved in agriculture and/or beef industry today? I am very fortunate that I am able to live on the ranch and work in agriculture. Between my job at the Extension Office and helping on the ranch in my spare time, I am immersed in the beef industry every single day!

With my job in Extension, I take research based information from the University and disseminate it to the public through a variety of ways. My job focuses primarily on beef production and range management, but because I am the only one in the office, I also provide leadership and programming in 4-H youth development, forage production, horticulture and community development. I get to do something different every day and most of it is outside of the office. Many days seem like mass chaos because in a single day I can go from answering questions about a diseased tree to identifying bugs and weeds, helping a 4-H member with their record book, running rations for a winter beef feeding program, determining how much hay to buy, making fertilizer recommendations for a producer’s alfalfa field based off of soil samples and end up helping a permittee monitor their range allotment. There is never a dull moment in the Extension Office.

When I’m not working, I’m busy helping on the ranch. When I start complaining about never getting any time off, I remember what my Gramps told me, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

How has your life been shaped by agriculture and/or beef industry? My family has been in the ranching business for more than 100 years. My Grandpa’s great grandfather arrived on the East Fork in 1888 and today the Bakers are still going strong. A lot of things have changed since 1888, but I feel very fortunate that I was born into a family that has a strong work ethic and good business sense. They have endured a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but through all of the ups and downs, they have persevered. Today, thanks to them, the East Fork valley is one of the most pristine areas in the whole state. The vast open spaces, including the green, lush fields, abundant wildlife and rivers full of fish are evidence of six generations of Bakers. I truly live in God’s country. It is no wonder those greenies wanted to make this place into a National Monument!

Hunting and fishing are some of Sarah's favorite pastimes. Here, Sarah is steelhead fishing on the Salmon River, with her Grandpa.

Hunting and fishing are some of Sarah’s favorite pastimes. Here, Sarah is steelhead fishing on the Salmon River, with her Grandpa.

During college, I was fortunate to be able to serve on the first slate of “interns” for the Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show in Denver, Colo., in 2002. I was hooked after attending my first convention. I knew I had to return and become involved! The following year, I was selected again to help at convention, this time in Nashville, Tenn. Attending those two conventions, and learning about the policy-making process, and meeting NCBA staff and cattlemen from all over the country, really got me excited to get more involved. I was involved in my state association already, having served in leadership roles of the Student Idaho Cattle Association (SICA) while at college. I was selected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) in 2003, which was a huge honor for a “snot-nosed college student,” and a responsibility I took very seriously. I served on the Board for 4 years and on the Executive Committee for 2 years while I was Chairman of the Idaho CattleWomen Council. These experiences afforded me the opportunity to become involved, make my voice heard, and really learn about the benefits of belonging to state and national cattle organizations.

Being raised on the East Fork helped to shape me into a strong, independent and responsible person. I appreciate the value of a dollar and what it means to put in a hard day’s work. Being active in the Student ICA, as well as the ICA and NCBA, coupled with my education, enthusiasm and enormous passion for the beef industry, all have been a huge influence on who I am today.

Who inspires you or serves as a mentor? My Grandpa always inspired me. He was my partner in crime ever since I can remember. We always had a special bond and I was with him from a very young age all the way up to his passing on June 27, 2014. When I lost Gramps, he was 92 years old. It was an extremely tough time for me and my family losing him, although we know he lived a rich and full life. He was born on the East Fork, and he passed away on the East Fork. We spread his ashes on a mountain overlooking the ranch in the sage brush and pine trees. I can look up every day from my house and see his final resting place. It brings me peace to know that he is now watching over us as we continue on his ranching legacy. When I think of him, I can’t help but smile. His hard work ethic, his can-do attitude, his appreciation for a cold beer after a long hot day in the hayfield, his love of sweets and good horses, his contagious smile and laugh….those memories continue to inspire me every single day.

How do you provide encouragement to others? I manage the 4-H program in Custer County, which gives youth hands-on, real-world experience that they need to become leaders. When I think of how I can provide encouragement to others, I think about the 4-H slogan of “Learn by Doing.” I encourage people to learn by doing. Don’t just listen to what others say—in order to make informed decisions, you have to get out there and experience it and do it yourself. When the Wilderness Society started their push to make our backyard a National Monument, the first thing we did was invite them to come to our ranch. We invited them into our homes and gave them a firsthand view of what ranching, and managed public lands grazing, does for the environment. The reason there is abundant fish and wildlife on the East Fork is because of the good stewardship by ranchers on both private and public lands.

Sarah (6), her grandma, and grandpa (behind the camera), 1, moving cows and fixing water troughs on Pistol Creek Ridge

Sarah (6), her grandma, and grandpa (behind the camera), 1, moving cows and fixing water troughs on Pistol Creek Ridge.

If given the chance, what message about agriculture or the beef industry would you share with a large group of people? I would encourage people to think about where their food comes from before they spout off misinformation about farming and ranching. When people are uneducated and base decisions on emotion rather than facts, agriculture is in a world of hurt.  The people that are making decisions in this country need a healthy dose of reality about where their food comes from—and what it takes from ranchers and farmers to make it happen.

Custer County is comprised of 97 percent public lands, thus the use of public lands for grazing is essential to the survival of the ranches here. Simply put, there is not enough private pasture available to make it economically feasible to run a cow, unless you can utilize public lands grazing permits. Through the years, it has become increasingly difficult to run cows on public lands. What happens when it is no longer feasible to utilize public lands for grazing cattle? My dad always said, “When the cows go off the mountain, the ranchers go too.” I wonder if the greenies will enjoy the sub-divisions and development more than the vast open spaces that ranchers help sustain? I know the wildlife won’t like it as much.

So I guess my message would be to quit slapping the hand that feeds you! People should be helping ranchers and farmers sustain their livelihoods, instead of trying to run them out of business!

What are you most thankful for? I am most thankful for my family. They are the reason I took this job in Extension and moved home. When I have a rough day at work, or things get stressful, I always have my family to fall back on. We were blessed with the 7th generation of Bakers when my nephew Grant was born in August of 2004. He is the pride and joy of the Baker family and he always brings a smile to my face. I am also thankful that my family provided me with the opportunity to grow up on a ranch in the middle of God’s country. Every morning when I wake up and see Castle Peak out my living room window, I am thankful.

What is you favorite meal to cook yourself or for others? Beef of course! I love to cut meat and then grill it up on the BBQ. My favorite cut is the petite tender, but you can’t find them anywhere, unless you cut up your own beef. So I would have to say my other favorite is a ribeye steak. Pair that with some Cleto macaroni (an old family recipe), and a green salad from Mom’s garden, and man oh man. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

Sarah, in 2012, with a bull elk she harvested opening day.

Sarah, in 2012, with a bull elk she harvested opening day.

What is your favorite childhood memory? Riding with my Grandpa. Whether we were moving cows, packing salt, hunting horns, or riding into a high mountain lake to go fishing, I spent a lot of time in the saddle trying to keep up my with my Gramps (I swear he trotted everywhere we went). I miss those days a lot, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What are some of your favorite pastimes and/or hobbies? I love to team rope, even though with my job in Extension (lots of evening and weekend meetings), I don’t ever seem to have any time to go rope! I also really like to fish. There is nothing better than fishing for steelhead in the spring in the Salmon River, or ice fishing at Jimmy Smith Lake in the winter.

What are three little known facts about you? 1) We only get mail delivered twice a week on East Fork, so Tuesdays and Fridays are big days when the mail arrives! 2) We don’t have cell phone service on East Fork and I love it that way. 3) I love to cut meat. If anyone needs help cutting up an elk, deer or a beef, call me!

We encourage you to keep up with Sarah, by following her on Facebook and Twitter!

Categories: Beef, Blogging, Idaho Cattlewomen, Lifestyle, Ranch Life


  1. Visited your beautiful East Fork in early November and am so glad your family has kept it natural. We saw a huge herd of elk, a pair of deer chasing off a coyote, and antelope galore. What is most impressive is how you cherish the land and your way of live. ( In case you are puzzled, we met you at the fair in Moscow—Cody’s in- laws. ).

  2. Awesome story Sarah! It reminds me of growing up with the cattle running them on the hills out by Jackpot Nevada as a young girl.. Thanks for sharing

  3. reading about your life made me so homesick. i grew up on a farm/ranch in the 50’s in southeastern idaho. at 15 we moved to mackay which i still consider home. i’ve lived in 9 different states, mostly western. how i miss those sagebrush brush covered hills, frosty mornings and being able to see real mountains. i am also very thankful for my childhood which helped me to understand where food really came from. thanks for sharing. idaho is a great place to live. no place else is like idaho

    1. Thanks for your comments, Karen! We hope you make it back to visit Idaho again some day! Thanks for sharing your memories with us and others.

  4. Idaho, Custer County and East Fork are very lucky to have Sarah as a leader and active member of their communities. You are a jewel and deserve praise.

    I found the article refreshing. Straight-forward and honest. Thank You.

  5. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story! I am one of the fourth generation of farmers and feedlot operations in northwest WY. I am proud of our family operation and wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything in the world!
    What a great story! Thanks for sharing!
    On my way to Chicago today for the Executive Women in Agriculture conference. Can’t wait!

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