February 20, 2019
By Debra Davis
Above: Melissa McElhaney of Bratt, Florida, takes instructions on vaccinations from Dr. Jessica Rush, a veterinarian at Auburn University’s Large Animal Teaching Hospital. Below: Lauryn Bryght of Notasulga said attending a workshop for women, taught by women, was empowering. She learned how to assist a cow in labor, collect forage and soil samples, maintain and calibrate equipment, and give injections. She also learned the importance of good record keeping.
Ladies who attended the Women In Ag workshop Jan. 18-19 varied in age, background and experience, but a common thread was their excitement to learn more about beef cattle.
Held at the Auburn University Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope, the event was coordinated by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) and featured sessions on cattle handling, nutrition and herd health. It also covered basic instructions and maintenance on tractors, trailers and farm equipment, plus forage management and soil health.
“I’ve always admired cattle when I was driving down the road, and I was excited to learn about them and discover better ways to use the land,” said 54-year-old Lauryn Bryght of Notasulga, who was among the 18 participants. “My objective is to one day have cattle of my own. I currently lease my land to a rancher, and I’m trying to learn all I can. I even learned how to pull a calf in case one day I need to assist in a delivery.”
Bryght said the importance of good forage, giving vaccinations properly and handling cattle in a chute were valuable experiences she gained at the workshop. She said she wasn’t prepared for the heartwarming impact of learning and being around other women in ag.
“Networking and meeting so many other women who are interested in farming who were all being taught by women was so touching,” she said. “It was motivating and empowering.”
Extension animal scientist Dr. Lisa Kriese-Anderson coordinated the event, which cost each participant $75. Program sponsors were Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Beef Checkoff, United Bank, Alabama Ag Credit, Baldwin County Farmers Federation and ACES.
Anderson said after three such workshops using a hands-on format and working in small groups, she believes women are not intimidated to ask questions. It’s all about getting experience and understanding why certain practices were adopted as beef industry standards, she said.
“The overall purpose of the program is to teach women the basics they’ll need on a cattle farm,” Anderson said. In addition to hands-on activities, participants received a 475-page notebook with workshop information separated by chapters.
Participants also studied for and took the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) exam. BQA certification can help producers capture more value for cattle they market and reflects a positive, caring image. All the participants who took the exam passed and will be BQA-certified for the next three years.
Kirsten Hood, an Auburn pharmacist who attended the workshop, said she wants to help her dad fulfill his retirement dream.
“He used to spend his summers on a family farm, and his retirement plans are to start a farm of his own,” said Hood, 27. “We bought 60 acres, and as he started working on it, I started to enjoy it myself. I have no farm background at all, but I figure the best-case scenario is that I don’t have any bad habits to unlearn.”
Traci Hood of Lanett, Kirsten’s mom, also attended the event. Her face beamed as she learned to drive a tractor, load a large round bale of hay and maneuver through a pecan orchard.
For Carla Robertson Williams of Montgomery, many workshop activities were familiar. She said she has often observed her dad, Chambers County Farmers Federation President Jack Robertson, while growing up on the family farm in Cusseta.
“At this event, I learned more about why you do things a certain way,” said the 30 year old. “For example, I realized that properly giving injections prevents bruising and helps preserve meat quality. I’m also especially proud that I finally understand how to hook up and drive a trailer by myself. That made me feel empowered.”
Anderson said the next Women In Ag workshop will be planned for fall, probably near Shorter at the E.V. Smith Research Center. Information will be posted at ACES.edu under the beef cattle tab.