Cultivating career options: LTC provides agricultural education opportunities to women

June 17, 2013

From “Cultivating career options: LTC provides agricultural education opportunities to women” — MANITOWOC — Traditionally speaking, farming may be considered a man’s profession. These days, however, women are proving they can milk cows, pick rocks and get the job done just as well as any man.

“It’s not just a man’s world anymore, there’s so many more opportunities, said Sheryl Nehls, instructor in dairy herd management at Lakeshore Technical College. “It’s not as much physical anymore, not that they can’t do that.”

LTC offers two programs in the field of agriculture — dairy herd management and, farm business and production management. Typically, the later program attracts established farm owners and operators, according to Nehls.

Each year, roughly a third of the class is made up of females, Nehls said. Organizations such as FFA have opened the doors for women, she said.

“Women are becoming that essential part of (the industry) as well,” said Terrilynn Hastreiter, LTC farm business and dairy herd management instructor. “They’re entering the industry strong. I think a lot of them are going to go back to that family farm and work with mom and dad, or at least dad, or whoever owns it at the time.”

What draws them in varies, but Nehls said there is one thing in particular that usually catches female students.

“By in large, they like working with cattle and our program focuses on that,” she noted.

Some of her female students have gone on to work with fresh cows, meaning those that have recently given birth to a calf.

“That’s the maternal aspect of the women maybe that appeals to them. There are so many niches to specialize in,” Nehls added.

On the farm

To get hands-on experience, students involved in the dairy herd management program, participate in going to site farms on Wednesdays during their last semester. At farms, like Soaring Eagle Dairy in Newton, students gain one-on-one knowledge from the owner or a herds manager and learn new skills, along with seeing firsthand how the farm utilizes technology. Last year, 12 farms participated and up to 18 students are able to participate at a time. Students rotate through the farms and spend a minimum of fours a week at each.

“We don’t have a farm facility on campus so we use the farms in the area,” Nehls explained., adding that LTC may be the only college nationwide to utilize site farms.

“I went to Madison for four years and sat in a classroom to learn about cows,” she joked.

In addition to the site farms, students take part in an internship program. The program is seven days a week for nine months and roughly 21 hours a week. That’s in addition to 30 hours of classroom time, including farm tours twice a week for dairy lab, and studying.

“It gives them a taste of the industry and what it’s really like for the time commitment,” Nehls said.

Lessons learned through opportunities like the site farms and internships are invaluable.

Know your neighbor

“Networking is going to be the No. 1,” Hastreiter said. “By getting out there and talking to individuals they’re going to learn what not to do and to do.”

It may also lead to new opportunities.

“Females are stepping up and taking those manager roles,” Hastreiter said. “Twenty years ago, you probably wouldn’t have seen that. I think it’s phenomenal. Women have proven that they can go through the program and they do succeed.”

“Every student is so different and that’s what makes the industry so interesting is because there are so many viewpoints,” Hastreiter said.

The creation of new forms of technology also have aided in streamlining certain aspects of farming.

“We’ve made the job so that it doesn’t have to encompass their whole life,” Nehls said. “I think a lot of women have seen that you can still have time to raise a family. … The technology really was the key to that.”

Beyond the classroom

Staying on top of the changes is important to the LTC instructors.

“It’s something we need to do as instructors to keep up with our teaching,” Hastreiter said. “It’s not just going back to the farm anymore, it’s specializing.”

The young people entering the workforce is about the same, Hastreiter said, but the opportunities have increased as technology has opened more doors, including genomic testing. Service technicians who understand not only the equipment, but how it functions on the farm are in demand as well.

“We’re taking that computer savvy individual and mixing it with the dairy savvy, “ Hastrieter said. “Technology is going to be implemented in every farm of every size eventually. … We learn from each other. Hearing ideas gets my brain going. It’s really learning from others.”

“The way we do things is just so drastically different,” said Nehls who grew up on a farm in Dodge County with holsteins, jerseys and Swiss. “We now design things for cows, not people.”

When not teaching in the summers, Nehls enjoys traveling to other farms to learn things she can bring back to the classroom. Four years ago, she visited an LTC graduate who was employed at a dairy farm with 4,000 cows in New Mexico to see how heat stress is handled in that area.

“No matter where you go, you can learn and tie that back into the industry,” she said.

“It’s not just a lifestyle, it’s a career,” Nehls added. It was her mother who urged her to check out an open position at LTC and she’s now been teaching for 32 years.

“I originally had my heart set on becoming a dairy agent … I’m fortunate that I can show them (female students) as a role model that there are no barriers.”


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