I don’t think Sarah Childs was ever content with the concept of “women’s work.” Cooking, feeding the ranch hands, cleaning, doing the books? Yeah, then what? I’m reminded of an old saying, “A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good.” She flipped that around real fast. Like her friend, Okeechobee County Extension Livestock Agent Pat Hogue, said, “Sarah gets things done.”
As Illinois farm girl where most farms are usually a few hundred acres or less, she was astonished at her first exposure to the size of some western ranches. “I didn’t know about large ranches until I went to Alamosa, Colo., where I attended Adams State College. That’s where I met my husband, Tom Childs and the rest of the Childs family. They were in business with John D. McArthur and they had Sky Valley Ranch, which was 125,000 acres. I was intrigued.”
It was when the Childs family moved to Florida in 1968, so that her father-in-law could manage MacArthur’s Buck Island Ranch, that she really got her feet wet. Buck Island exposed her to the citrus industry as well as more cattle. She quickly figured out that citrus wasn’t her thing; it was the cattle herd that got her excited. Describing her start, she said, “I walked out into a cattle pen, had to push my way in. Some of the boys didn’t like a woman out there. I stood behind my father-in-law, Dan Childs, and learned all I could.
“My interest was the hard work, working in the cow pens, the horseback riding, the gathering of cattle in pasture,” she said. “But back then, in the early 70’s, it was literally a speak-when-you’re-spoken-to thing for women. I kept at it though, and I think over time they just figured that they weren’t going to get rid of me, so they just gave in and said, ‘okay, she’s here to stay.’”
That stubborn streak earned her the title of assistant ranch manager at Buck Island in 1988.
When she moved out of Dan Childs’ shadow she was confident in her knowledge of the business and blossomed into a leader. She was one of the first women to step out of the kitchen and take on a much bigger role in Florida animal agriculture. What she’s managed to accomplish is remarkable. She served more than 20 years on the Advisory Committee for the South Florida Beef-Forage Program, and also has participated in consumer and youth-education programs to increase awareness of beef products in her home state. She’s a past committee co-chair for the Florida Cattlemen; a past Florida CowBelle and CattleWomen state president; and past president of the Florida Range Society and the Highlands County Cattlemen.