Women in Ag: North Idaho Purebred Breeder, Maureen Mai

Maureen Mai was born and raised in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho—a town just 30 miles south of the Canadian border. She and her husband, Ryan, met during their time at University of Idaho, getting married soon after they graduated. They have been involved in almost all aspects of the cattle business, starting with buying and selling stocker calves, developing a feedlot, and leasing a set of commercial cows, all while continuing to grow the purebred herd she started in her early teen’s. Maureen, Ryan and their son Dillon are now focused on their purebred herd, selling their bulls each February in the Bulls of the Big Sky sale.

How are you involved in agriculture today? It certainly varies from the seasons, but driving tractors and working with cattle fall into all the seasons. I tend to fill in where it is needed, whether it be with the hay rakes, the big baler, as a fence builder, or a truck driver. I operate the combine during our grain harvest…but I am trying to retire from that since I am now more involved with our county fair and 4-H. I am a 4-H leader for the Beef projects. The cows need checked weekly at all their pastures in the summertime and they get fed daily when they aren’t on pasture the other six months of the year. I do the bookkeeping for our business as well as the Idaho and Montana Simmental Associations, and our Bulls of the Big Sky Sale group. So, unfortunately I have to sit behind the computer quite a bit as well.

How has your life been shaped by agriculture? Agriculture has shaped my life from the beginning. My parents had cattle since they were married. They also farmed hay and grains on a small basis and also were involved with the nursery industry for a while. I started 4-H as soon as possible with market steer and horse projects. When I was in high school I was selected to attend the ACT (Advancement for the Cattleman of Tomorrow) Program sponsored by the University of Idaho. After touring Idaho and seeing all of the possibilities and potential with agriculture, I knew I had no intentions of leaving it.

Who inspires you or serves as a mentor? Lots of people have inspired me and many have and do serve as mentors. In the beginning it was a family friend who drug me all across the country to cattle shows. She got me hooked on showing beyond the county level and being an important part of our breed association. All she ever asked is that I would do the same for someone sometime (I have since then hauled her granddaughters and several other kids a great many miles). Dr. Carl Hunt, retired Beef Nutrition Professor at U of I certainly inspired me to think “outside the box” whether it be for feeding/nutrition or profitability or general beef management. Marty Ropp with Allied Genetic Resources has mentored us into developing a pretty strong and competitive herd of Simmental cattle, which we sell to commercial cattlemen at our bull sale.

Maureen and Ryan's son, Dillon, taking the time to play with a new calf.

Maureen and Ryan’s son, Dillon, taking the time to play with a new calf.

How do you provide encouragement to others? Providing encouragement to others???  My husband might say I yell really loud… but I try not to use that technique first. Especially with kids I try to help them achieve their goals by providing advice, pointing them to the right resources, and build their confidence as we go. I usually try to show them how to do something and then make them do it-—with supervision. It helps build their confidence and it teaches them to try new things. They usually end by saying, “that wasn’t so hard” or “that was really cool.”

If given the chance, what message about agriculture or the beef industry would you share with a large group of people? My message about the agriculture and beef industry is…it is SAFE, DELICIOUS and NUTRITIOUS. The farmers and ranchers of the U.S. get up early and stay up late to take care of their animals and crops to make a safe and delicious product for our consumers. It is often a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, on call job to keep animals safe and harvest crops before bad weather. The dedicated 2 percent of the population commits their lives to put a safe product on the table for the other 98 percent.

What are you most thankful for? I am most thankful for my family and the ability to live the life we do. We work hard but it is so exciting every spring to see a new year of baby calves hit the ground and see if all of last year’s plans worked. I love the early mornings of spring when the green grass pops up as you go out to feed the cows. It is exciting to start the harvest to see how the crops do that you’ve watched grow all summer. Most of all my son gets to experience all these joys as well.

What is you favorite meal to cook yourself or for others? Cooking isn’t my favorite thing to do but it seems to be essential. My favorite quick dish and family favorite is the Black Bean Tamale Pie—it has a corn bread/sour cream crust with hamburger, black beans, corn and taco/fajita seasoning inside. It was a “Beef It’s Whats For Dinner” contest winner years ago.  If company is coming over though I do love to BBQ a good Tri-Tip and some sort of high-calorie loaded potatoes.

A few members of Mai's cattle herd.

A few members of Mai’s cattle herd.

What is the first thing you do when you walk into a grocery store? The first thing I do when I walk into the grocery store is…remember I left my list at home!

What is your favorite childhood memory? My favorite childhood memories are usually related to horses and riding around the neighborhood with my friends. On our adventures we would stop and pick flowers for our moms—which were really weeds, but at the time we didn’t know that!

What is your favorite store to shop in? Favorite store to shop in is Costco and a Big R or D&B. If they don’t have it, we probably don’t really need it!

What is something people might be surprised to know about you? We put up and delivered small bales to the local horse market before we moved to the big 3x4x8’ bales and entered the export market—some of our hay has gone to Korea, Japan (to feed their dairy cows and race horses), and Saudi Arabia (to feed their camels). We continue to custom bale thousands of tons of hay and straw each year.

What are a few of your hobbies? In our spare time, I enjoy boating with family on Lake Pend Oreille, riding our horses, attending to my yard of flowers, and snow skiing.

You can reach out to Maureen by emailing her at rymocattle@gmail.com.

Categories: Beef, Blogging, Idaho Cattlewomen, Lifestyle