Women gain confidence in cattle handling

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 12, 2021

Confidence, capability and empowerment were just a few takeaways for the 50 women who participated in a special cattle handling event at the Buckingham Agriculture Resource Network on Oct. 29.

The day-long conference was organized by Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia Cattle WISE (Women Increasing Skills and Education) Planning Committee and the Virginia Women in Agriculture Network. Female Extension agents and specialists with farm expertise led groups through various hands-on exercises. These included administering vaccines, tagging ears, handling cattle, calving, calf troubleshooting and bovine reproduction, plus livestock trailer and tractor maneuvering, safety and maintenance.

Lee County Extension agent and Virginia Farm Bureau Federation member Amy Byington submitted a grant for Cattle WISE to offer hands-on agricultural skills events at a low cost to women statewide.

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She loved growing up farming with her dad but remembers moments of frustration. Thus, the need for the skills workshop.

“This is a space where there are no stupid questions,” Byington said. “What it’s all about—sharing our cheat sheets.”

Committee member and Franklin County Extension Agent Cynthia Martel said women often must step into operational roles when something happens if a man is the primary farm operator.

“And we want to give them the tools to do that,” she said. “Or, they want to be more involved on the farm, and don’t know how to be. We’re more capable than we know.”

Janelle Huffman of Huffmans Cattle & Hay in Rappahannock County said the educational event enabled her to help her husband run the family’s cow-calf operation.

“This is helping me build my confidence,” said Huffman, who works full time off the farm. “I have two bottle babies now, and I want to be able to work them confidently. And if my husband is away or he’s ill, I can continue on with no concern.”

Huffman said vaccinating cows was a source of anxiety, but she got the hang of it at Cattle WISE.

“Having other women here is less intimidating; they’re patient,” Huffman said. “And they teach little tricks, like putting the back of my hand against the shoulder blade to vaccinate them—that’s a huge lightbulb moment.”

Participants also learned more about the industry through a presentation from the Virginia Beef Council, and some completed certification tests for Beef Quality Assurance Training.

The committee plans to offer more affordable, hands-on events for women interested in various agricultural sectors. Upcoming events are listed at sites.google.com/view/virginiawomeninagriculture, and the network’s Facebook page.

“This was a lot of fun and quite a learning experience,” Huffman said. “It was worth it, 100%.”