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Workshop for women focuses on handling cattle

It is perhaps appropriate that a series of North Carolina Cooperative Extension cattle handling workshops focused on a low-stress approach to dealing with cattle, for the workshops themselves, which were open to women only, seemed to provide a low-stress environment.

Indeed, the workshops were created in large measure to provide a less-intimidating atmosphere for the participants, said Dr. Jeannette Moore, Animal Science Undergraduate Teaching Coordinator and Alumni Distinguished Professor.

Picture of Dr. Mark Alley giving calving presentation.
Dr. Mark Alley demonstrated low-stress cattle handling and gave a presentation on calving, using a stuffed calf and a cow's pelvicne.

Moore said April Shaeffer, a research technician in the Department of Animal Science, was largely responsible for creating the workshops. Shaeffer noticed that women do not seem to participate as fully as men when men and women attend events focused on activities, such as handling cattle, traditionally pursued by men.

Yet women seem increasingly to be interested in agriculture and in agriculture that involves animals. Moore pointed out that most of the students — an astonishing 80 percent – in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Science are women.

Moore credited Shaeffer with organizing the workshops and securing funding from the North Carolina’s Cattlemen’s Association to put on the events.

The first two workshops were held in 2011 in Raleigh and Canton in Western North Carolina. A third was held Sept. 29 at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro.

Picture of Dr. Sharon Freeman giving presentation on pasture management.
Dr. Sharon Freeman gave a presentation on pasture management.

While the workshops included presentations on a range of topics, the focus was on low-stress animal handling, a relatively new method of directing the movements of cows that relies more on a cow’s natural behavior than more traditional cow-moving methods such as arm waving or yelling.

As Dr. Mark Alley, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, demonstrated during the workshop, low-stress cattle handling takes advantage of a cow’s flight zone, a comfort area around the cow. Step into a cow’s flight zone, and the cow will move away. Step out of the zone, and the cow tends stay where it is.

Workshop participants learned – the workshop offered ample hands-on opportunities to move cows – that simply by standing in the right place relative to a group of cows, they could make the cows go where they wanted.

Picture of workshop participants practicing low-stress cattle management.
A workshop participant practices moving cattle as April Shaeffer looks on.

Alley also gave a presentation on calving, while the workshop included a presentation on pasture management by Dr. Sharon Freeman, research and extension associate in Animal Science, and Dr. Matt Poore, professor of Animal Science. In addition, Lisa Shelton, a certified beef quality assurance trainer and farm manager for John Queen Farms in Waynesville, led a hands-on demonstration on vaccinating, deworming, checking teeth and putting ear tags on cattle. The workshop also included a presentation about the N.C. Cattlemen’s Association by Bryan Blinson, association executive director.

Moore said the workshops were supposed to be limited to 20 participants to allow plenty of hands-on opportunities, but the Western North Carolina event drew 28 women, while the CEFS workshop drew 25.

picture of cows.
Getting cows like these to go where you want was a central part of the workshop.

Most of the participants were interested in acquiring skills that would allow them to play a more significant role in farming operations. One said her father was aging and less able to handle farm chores. Several had married into farm families and wanted to know more about the farming operation. And Moore said several participants had pursued careers off the farm and now wanted to return to family farming operations.

Participants seemed to appreciate the hands-on and women-only aspects of the workshops.  Shaeffer and Moore are now planning phase two, a series of workshops (again for women only) that may focus on topics such as tractor safety, backing a trailer, record keeping and beef quality assurance.

– Dave Caldwell

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