Fifteen years ago, Marcia Shannon was conducting feminine farrowing schools. As the pork industry consolidated, there became fewer and fewer attendees and the schools stopped. But the University of Missouri-Columbia animal scientist still saw a need to help women develop their skills on the farm. So she worked with a group of female regional livestock specialists to create an event solely to educate and encourage women in agriculture.
The two-day seminar, "Pearls of Production," was held in November at the MU Bradford Research and Extension Facility. The first day participants were given the tools to help them advocate for agriculture, build a solid financial plan, and become tech savvy. The second day allowed the women hands-on lessons in the basics of agriculture, including the areas of swine, beef, small ruminant and forage production.
Discovering for the truth
"We have an everyday challenge of separating fact from fiction," Gretchen Hill, animal science professor at Michigan State University told the group the first day. She says one area of agriculture where consumers struggle to find truth is antibiotic use in animals.
While Michigan State University does not use antibiotics in on their farms, Hill said, "It is wrong for an animal that is sick to have to suffer. We are going to use antibiotics because it is the right thing to do." However, she says there is a need for women to be proactive in improving antibiotic use in livestock.
Hill says the first step is using the right antibiotic the first time. "Know what you are treating and treat it with the right medicine." Then administer the right dose with the right method. Simply, she says, read the label.
Those women attending the swine production breakout session were able to put Hill's insight into practice. Armed with a vaccinator they headed to the nursery facility where Shannon instructed them on what vaccines to administer, exact dose and proper injection site. Then the women started vaccinating three-week-old pigs.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"Right here?" asked Kris Griffitts, a nurse from Higbee who was getting back into hog production. Shannon explained that behind the neck was the best place for this particular vaccine. So, Griffitts pulled the trigger and administered the medicine. "That was simple," she added.
But shots were just one small lesson that day. MU Extension educator Heather Smith provided hands-on opportunities for dissecting the reproductive tract of a sow, artificially inseminating gilts, and completing a baby pig necropsy.
Smith said it is important that women understand the lifecycle of a hog starting at conception. "You can AI your own hogs," she says. At the MU Swine Teaching Barn, she demonstrated how to detect a sow in heat. With one female ready for breeding, Leanna Gubbels stepped into the pen.
Gubbels sat on top of the sows back and began to insert the AI tube. Then she attached the semen pouch. And the college student from Nebraska completed her first solo AI. "It's not that hard," she quipped.
Putting it into practice
Rose Massengill attended Pearls of Production to familiarize herself with the swine industry. Massengill, who lives in California, worked with the Missouri Department of Agriculture in the poultry sector. Now, she works with the USDA and has some responsibility for swine producers in her area.
"I think the last time I have stepped on a swine farm was 28 or 29 years ago," she shared with the group. "I hope to be able to help producers with what I learn today."
Pearls of Production armed women with the information to take back to their own farm, or share with others. The event was designed to teach workaday skills and the scientific concepts behind them. The sessions should make a woman's job on the farm easier, Shannon said. She encouraged them to take the information and fine-tune it to their individual operations.