COLUMBIA, Mo. – Women in agriculture gained skills from women in agriculture at the first Pearls of Production conference at the University of Missouri, Nov. 8-9.

Marcia Shannon, MU Extension swine specialist, said the conference builds skills and confidence.

First importance goes to basics of agriculture. In breakout sessions, topics ranged from determining cause of death of a baby pig to estimating body condition score of a cow to be bred to learning pasture grasses.

In opening remarks to 50 participants, Shannon said the second goal will be to communicate about livestock farming.

“We need more leaders and want you to be more involved in production agriculture,” she said.

In introducing herself, Sheri Graham, farm wife from Libertyville, Mo., said, “I’ve been working on a farm while holding an off-farm job in health care. I do what’s needed, such as giving vaccinations. But I want to learn more on why and how.”

The first day of the program covered three levels, starting with big issues facing livestock agriculture followed by sessions on communications. Specifics in technology, marketing and animal health followed.

All topics were covered by women leaders, whether from the farm, business or university. “We have a lot of talent in this room,” Shannon said in the opening session at the MU Bradford Research Center, 7 miles east of the MU campus at Columbia.

Pearls of Production grew out of a long-ago series of “feminine farrowing schools.” Farm wives on hog farms taught other farm women the basics of caring for baby pigs. That included castrations of boar pigs and clipping needle teeth.

Pig care skills started a long trend of improved production practices that saved more piglets per litter.

The second day at Pearls, the women broke into separate groups to pursue practices in beef, swine, sheep and goats, and forages.

Classes were taught at Bradford, the Swine Farm and the Beef Research and Teaching Farm. All are part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Each of the workshops, labeled “down and dirty,” gave hands-on experience. On the swine track, that included basics from the farrowing schools.

Women in work boots and rubber gloves became involved. At the start of one dissection, a veterinarian said, “I’ve seen big men turn away from this.” None of the women backed away.

Work sessions were led by MU Extension regional livestock specialists, with help on small ruminants from Lincoln University, Jefferson City.

Shannon said Pearls grew out a meeting of women livestock specialists at the MU Extension annual conference last year. The idea came from a series of beef calving workshops in central Missouri. Those turned into standing-room-only events.

At the opening session, Gretchen Hill, swine nutritionist at Michigan State University, formerly at MU, helped the group look behind myths of food and human health.

“Learn to search for the scientific literature behind these stories,” Hill said. “Don’t just Google for an answer.” Hill said she teaches her students to avoid the undocumented stories found on the Internet.

Unchallenged and uncorrected, myths can harm animal agriculture.

The journal articles can be found on the Internet by browsers.

Shannon said the workshops not only teach workaday skills, but also scientific concepts behind them.

“These should make your job easier,” she said. “You can fine tune what you are doing.”

As Sheri Graham prepared to leave the beef breakout session, she said with enthusiasm, “This is what I needed.”

Shannon asked for feedback. “We need to learn your level of experience. Your evaluations will help improve the next conferences.”

If interested in attending a future session, contact Shannon at 573-882-7859.

The only criticism heard as the women left was “You didn’t tell enough people about this.”

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