MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. — Rachel Ezzell of Waxhaw, NC grew up with several role models in the agriculture industry. Both of her grandfathers and her dad all farmed a small heard of Angus-Simmental cross beef cattle.
“My dad used to pick me up from daycare in the 4430 John Deere tractor and we would go straight to the field,” Ezzell recalled. “I had my designated spot in the tractor along with my own pillow. I remember falling asleep on my dad’s lap as we bounced across the field, spraying, planting, or baling hay. Now, when I operate a tractor, I have to turn the AC to the coldest setting and the radio to the loudest, otherwise I’ll fall asleep.”
As Ezzell got older, she began helping by working the cows and picking up hay bales. “My middle school years were spent in the driver’s seat of the GMC Sierra pulling the 20-foot gooseneck hay trailer in the field as my pawpaw, Buddy, loaded hay. I would drive to the driveway, put it in park, and we would trade places,” Ezzell said.
In high school Ezzell helped with the hay operation; teddering and raking hay. She now has her own small herd of Angus cows that she purchased with her money.
Having grown up on a farm, it is no wonder that Ezzell wanted to take her love of the outdoors and her desire to help feed the world to the next level. In the fall of 2015, after graduating high school, Ezzell enrolled at the University of Mount Olive. She is majoring in agricultural production systems with a concentration in animal science and a minor in agribusiness.
Throughout her time at UMO, Ezzell has been busy inside and outside the classroom. She has held officer roles for two of the four years she has been involved in Collegiate FFA. She has also served as President of the Collegiate Young Farmers & Ranchers (YFR). “As a part of the YFR, I have been able to travel all over the state and the country,” Ezzell said. She has traveled to Asheville, New Bern, Raleigh, and Greensboro for leadership conferences and state committee meetings. She has visited Reno and Milwaukee for the FUSION conference where she went on farm/industry tours and attended workshops. “It is a great networking opportunity and a great way to learn about agriculture in other states,” she said. As part of YFR community service projects, Ezzell has volunteered at the food pantry and assisted farmers through hurricane relief projects. “I have made numerous friends and plan to continue my involvement in YFR in Union County after I graduate,” she added.
Ezzell’s knowledge and skills in the ag industry have helped her earn several awards during her collegiate years. Her membership in the UMO Forage Bowl Team helped the team garner a state level win and the opportunity to compete at the national level, where the team earned third place. A member of the winning regional Dairy Challenge Team for two Years, Ezzell had the opportunity to again compete at the national level. In 2017 and 2018, she was a top six competitor for the UMO Discussion Meet competition, and went on to the state level in 2018.
“UMO Agriculture professors not only teach you what you need in the classroom, they also provide the opportunities to apply that knowledge,” Ezzell said. “The student farm, lab visits, and exposure to the real world of agriculture have been extremely helpful.”
Through her studies at UMO, Ezzell has obtained numerous certifications and memberships. She is Beef Quality Assurance Certified, Pork Quality Assurance Certified, Transport Quality Assurance Certified, a member for the NC Cattleman’s Association, the NC and National Forage and Grassland Council, the American Dairy Science Association, etc. At UMO, Ezzell has had the opportunity to speak with senators and legislators about the importance of agriculture, and she has made many networking connections that she will maintain throughout her career.
If all that were not enough to keep her busy, as the part of her curriculum, Ezzell currently works with Clifton Seed out of Faison and she has interned for the past two summers at White Rock Farms LLC, a dairy operation in Peachland, NC. “I was hesitant to take the internship at first, because beef cows have always held a special place in my heart,” Ezzell said. “But, I figured working at the dairy would be a good experience and would broaden my horizons. I immediately fell in love.”
Dressed in Levis, a t-shirt, rubber muck boots, and a ball cap, Ezzell arrives to work at 7 AM. “Mornings are my favorite time. When I first get to the dairy, it is so peaceful. The sun is coming up and the cows are in the barn either lying down or eating. It is quiet and calm. As the milk shift starts, cows are moved into the parlor, and the noises begin. The rotary parlor starts up, cows enter the stalls, and the rhythm of the milking units pumping fills the air. You smell fresh silage and feed, and of course you smell manure. But to me, it smells like money,” she smiled.
Ezzell spends the first part of her days heat checking cows for breed ability, helps with the milking, and then provides special care or medication administration to any cows in need. After lunch, Ezzell helps with cleaning and changing feed in the calf hutches, vaccinating and ear tagging calves, and heat checking heifers. The hours are long and labor intensive.
“The cattle industry is commonly a man’s world, whether it is beef or dairy,” Ezzell said. “While there are many women in the industry, it is nothing new for me to get astonished looks when I tell people that I want to become a dairy herdsperson when I graduate.”
Ezzell was raised to be tough and work hard. From slinging 50 pound feed bags and castrating bull calves, to operating equipment and helping her dad with mechanic work; she was treated no different from one of the boys. Ezzell has been advised by her dad and grandfathers that farming is hard, but rewarding. “They always told me that farming was a 365 day-a-year job. I know from experience that you never have set hours on a farm. You have to be willing to get up early and work until the job is done.”
Working as a herdsperson is a challenge that Ezzell has proven she is up to tackling. Interning at White Rock Farms LLC with owner Roddy Purser, Herdsman Drew Gibson, and Calf Manager Dakota Sparks has been an amazing opportunity for Ezzell. “I have learned so much from each of them,” she shared. “They correct my mistakes, give encouragement, and let me learn things by actually doing them. I’ve always felt I’ve had a strong work ethic, but working alongside them has pushed me to want to work even harder.”
Ezzell graduated from the University of Mount Olive in May with a bachelor’s degree. She plans to continue working at White Rock Farms LLC with the ultimate goal of becoming a dairy herd manager. Ezzell is the daughter of Ben and Paula Ezzel.
—Rhonda Jessup, University of Mount Olive