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Machine and cows are her passion; Heidi Bättig, a young female farm manager in Switzerland

Zollikofen, Switzerland, 28.11.2012 By Martina Graf, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences (HAFL)It’s 5.15 in the morning in Ufhusen (LU), a small village of Switzerland. It’s dark and silent, most of the animals and humans are still asleep. It's at this early time of the day that Heidi Bättig (a Swiss young woman, 33 year old) starts her work. She slips into her boots and goes to the barn.First thing she does is to feed the cows and prepare the milking cluster. After milking the cows and delivering the milk to the cheese factory, she gets ready for a long working day.During the summer, the days are punctuated by fieldwork such as haymaking, manure spreading, preparing the land for pastures, cherry harvesting and many other activities. In winter , she cleans and maintains the machines, repairs tools, and performs forest duties.She likes the work on the countryside with machines, and the careful use of natural resources, which is an important subject for her.Heidi Bättig is one of the few women in Switzerland that manages a farm by herself. Only 4% of Swiss farms are run by women; meaning that the farms are not only owned by a woman but is also lead by one.Compared to the European Union, the number of Swiss female farm managers is rather low. Official investigations of the European Union have shown that in the European area, on average every fifth woman manages a farm. But there are significant differences as well between the individual member states of the EU. For example, more than 29% of Austrian and 24% of Italian farms are headed by a woman, only 7% in Denmark and 6% in the Netherlands.When being asked about her acceptance as a female farm manager in a male dominated agriculture work environment, Heidi Bättig underlines the need of carrying out her work perfectly and more (!) to be fully accepted and respected by her male farmer colleagues. And even that is not good enough for some male colleagues! Therefore, she emphasizes the importance of a good education in agriculture to be able to prove professional expertise.On the other hand, Heidi Bättig has the feeling that, in regards to the people living in her village, her image is better compared to her male colleagues, because people are amazed at seeing a woman managing a farm.The fact that she is part of a ‘minority’ hardly affects Heidi Bättig’s daily life. Like her male colleagues, she faces economic challenges and has to take decisions regarding to long and short-term strategies of the farm in a permanently changing agricultural environment. Moreover, she works outdoors in all weather conditions and she is struggling with bureaucracy to fulfill the requirements to receive subsidies.Heidi Bättig’s farm is typical of the region and is comparable to other men lead farms. The farm covers an area of 10.2 ha, of which about 3 ha is arable land. The farm is situated in a hilly area; therefore a professional handling of machines in the slopes is necessary. The farm produces milk with 12 dairy cows, out of a 40 head cattle herd. Two pigs are kept for the farm's own meat supply.The most important operating branch is the chicken production. More than 50’000 chickens are fattened during the year and are sold to BELL Switzerland SA, one of the major purchasers in the Swiss meat sector.But why does a woman choose to become a farmer? How did she get the chance to take over a farm? In Switzerland, it’s a common rule that a farm, in spite of statutory gender equality, is inherited from father to son. This role perception stems from old traditions and is deeply rooted in the rural population.However, in a changing agricultural environment, and with more and more independent women willing to take over, these patterns are in the process of changing. In Heidi Bättig's case, two factors prompted her to agricultural life: the willingness of her parents to integrate her from childhood to farm life and the absence of a brother.She successfully completed the farmer’s vocational school and went through an additional training for farm manager. Some years ago, to the surprise of many farmers from the region, Heidi Bättig took over her father’s farm without getting married to a farmer. In this sense, female farm managers like Heidi Bättig act as role models and touch the spirit of their time.Around 4 p.m., Heidi Bättig feeds again the animals and milks the cows for the second time. Her workday’s closing time varies with the season, sometimes early, most of the times very late. As her long day comes to an end, Heidi Bättig’s desire to go on remains as strong as her immense pleasure of working on the farm.