Cheers filled Room 205 of Polk Hall as NC State Extension technician April Shaeffer wrapped up her television debut with a smile.
Shaeffer’s North Carolina Leadership and Cattle Handling for Women Producers program garnered national attention this month from FarmHer, an RFD TV program focusing on the contributions of women in agriculture.
Dozens of Shaeffer’s colleagues turned out to watch the final airing of Shaeffer’s episode the morning of December 7. Clips from the show are now available online, with the full episode accessible on the RFD TV website with a subscription.
“She did a great job,” audience member and William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Jack Odle said.
In Shaeffer’s two-day workshop, participants learn how to drive a truck and trailer through an obstacle course and how to back up both gooseneck and bumper pull trailers. They are drilled in how to administer vaccines properly, how to manage birthing problems and how to change trailer tires. Safety is a primary focus.
“I learned an incredible amount in a short time,” past participant and CALS Senior Associate Dean Sylvia Blankenship said. “If it were not for [April’s] efforts, I suspect many of the women in the room would have never had a chance to do many of the things we did.”
Shaeffer launched the workshops in 2011, originally funded by the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association. Shaeffer’s goal is a welcoming atmosphere for women to get hands-on training in key cattle-farming practices. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Sarah Blacklin of NC Choices through the Center for Environmental Farming Systems have also provided support.
Now, the workshops Shaeffer thought wouldn’t last past the first class are capped at 20 participants, who range in age from 18 to their mid-70s. Many already have experience in agriculture. There is always a waiting list.
“The workshop has really taken the ego out of things and provided an atmosphere for networking,” Shaeffer said. “It’s a friendly environment. Nobody is going to be critical.”
There Are No Stupid Questions
The idea for the workshop came from a simple observation: in other livestock trainings through the NC State Cooperative Extension, the women were less likely to speak up and more likely to be introduced by their husband — and as a wife rather than a farming partner.
“I don’t consider myself a bra-burning woman, but I felt like the ladies were not getting the credit they deserve,” Shaeffer said.
Shaeffer’s is exactly the kind of work FarmHer aims to highlight: their goal is to shine a light on women in agriculture, heralding women as “important but often unseen.” With the shifting demographics in some areas of agriculture – about 80 percent of Animal Science students are women, Shaeffer said – it’s important to support the change.
For her part, national stardom or not, Shaeffer plans for the workshops to continue.
“It’s grown beyond what I imagined,” she said.