After enrolling in the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis, Jessie's dad, Kif, presented her with the opportunity to buy a small herd of cows following graduation. Because of her hands-on experience of working with cattle, many of Jessie's college classes at NCTA were a review of what she already knew. "But I was especially grateful for the business classes that taught me how to create spreadsheets to manage cash flow and set up record keeping for my cows," she said.
In addition to the farm near Harvard, the Portenier family has a ranch near Elwood, Nebraska. Jessie's cattle, as well as those owned by her father, are located there from early spring until after corn harvest. "During the summer, I spend most of my time at the ranch caring for the cows and calves--checking their health, getting them mineral to supplement the nutrition in their forage nutrition, and so forth." While Jessie is focused primarily on the beef side of the family operation, she's also always ready to step up when her parents need help with the crops--taking seed to the field during planting, putting out irrigation pipe, and hauling grain. The corn crop is a critical component in the family's beef business. Having both crops and cattle helps diversify the family operation. During the winter months, the cattle are transported from the Elwood ranch to the farm near Harvard to graze on cornstalks. This is also where calving takes place in February.
So what's it like being a young woman in what is typically thought of as a "man's world"?
"We have definitely always been a family farm and we never really had any hired help." Jessie said. "It was just dad, mom and us four girls. Everyone in the area talked about 'Kif and his girl crew' because that's just what it was. So I've never struggled with people saying that farming is a man's job." Jessie was married this past November to a young farmer and rancher from the McCook area, and the couple is working out the details of helping both of their families with their operations that are 150 miles apart. "If you want to be able to see your husband, you need to go out and spend time with him doing what he's doing," she said. "My mom has been dad's right-hand since they've been married. That's what I watched growing up and that's what I have always wanted."