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University of Missouri

Milk Money

Linda Wulff‐Risner was MU Extension’s first female dairy specialist.

Linda Wulff-Risner, center, was the first female dairy specialist when University of Missouri Extension hired her in 1982. With her are Bob Stewart, chair of the Department of Agricultural Education, and Gail Imig, MU associate vice president of academic affairs with extension. Photo courtesy Agricultural Experiment Station Publications. 

Linda Wulff‐Risner, center, was the first female dairy specialist when University of Missouri Extension hired her in 1982. With her are Bob Stewart, chair of the Department of Agricultural Education, and Gail Imig, MU associate vice president of academic affairs with extension. Photo courtesy Agricultural Experiment Station Publications.

Linda Wulff‐Risner had always loved horses. When she grew up, she was going to be a veterinarian. But when the Columbia native arrived on campus in 1973 to register, the animal science course was full. So her adviser recommended a different course with dairy scientist John Campbell, BS Ag ’55, MS ’56, PhD ’60.

She enrolled with hesitation. “Here I am, a kid with no dairy background,” she remembers thinking. “Why am I taking this class?”

Imagine Wulff-Risner’s surprise when she discovered all aspects of cattle, from herd management to dairy grazing, to be fascinating. In 1982, after managing one of the largest dairy operations in Wisconsin, Wulff‐Risner became the first female dairy specialist with MU Extension in Houston, Mo.

When they hired me, they asked me how, as a female, I would handle working with mostly male clientele,” Wulff‐Risner says. “It was a weird question to be asked. I said, ‘Well, I would approach it as a family operation and direct my education efforts to both members of the couple.”

With the research‐based information she provided, one farmer’s milk production increased by 7 percent in just three days. Word got out quickly, and she never had fewer than 50 farmers at the educational workshops she hosted after that.

I don’t know if I had to work harder [than male specialists] to establish credibility, but I had to work hard,” she says.

Today Wulff‐Risner, BS Ag ’76, MS ’78, EdSp ’88, PhD ’96, is an assistant professor of agriculture at Missouri State‐West Plains. Even though she was sidetracked by cattle, she never forgot her dream of working with horses. In her spare time, she operates a commercial horse stable, coaches riders at competitions and manages a therapeutic riding center.