A WISE program helps local farm women

Published 11:11 am Saturday, January 13, 2024

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Farm women from Prince Edward, Cumberland, Charlotte, Lunenburg and 22 other counties converged in Central Virginia late last month to hear from renowned cattlewoman, author and professor Dr. Temple Grandin.

An animal scientist at Colorado State University, Grandin has authored dozens of books and papers on livestock handling and animal behavior. As a scholar with autism, she’s also written extensively on neurodivergence. She discussed her latest book, Visual Thinking, at the two-day Women Increasing Skills and Education event.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s WISE program was held in December at Graves Mountain Farm & Lodges and Senterfitt Farms, where participants honed skills in equipment operation, fencing, farm safety, cattle handling and more. Program leader Amy Gail Fannon Byington, a senior Extension agent in Lee County, said the WISE programs are small gatherings that boast big-impact outcomes.

“A small-group environment allows all participants to learn without a crowd watching,” she explained. “Increasing confidence is one of the main drivers behind the program.”

The Virginia Cattle Industry Board partnered with WISE and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association to bring Grandin to Virginia, where she participated in livestock demonstrations and was the keynote speaker.


In 1976, Grandin put herself in a cattle-handling chute to personally observe visual distractions stressing livestock. As a result, she designed a curved chute for alleviating those issues. Grandin’s success as a humane livestock facility designer is attributed to her recollection of details — a characteristic of her visual memory.

She signed copies of her new book, which explores the hidden gifts of those who think in pictures, patterns and abstractions.

“When I was in my 20s, people thought I was dumb because I couldn’t do higher math,” Grandin recalled. “But there’s different kinds of thinking — object-visualizers like me, and other people good at art and mechanics.

“The mathematical mind thinks in patterns. But everything I think about is a picture. Being autistic, we tend to be extreme visualizers. And you need us! You want infrastructure, water and electrical systems to work.”


Large animal veterinarian Dr. Amanda Weakley-Scott, a Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee member, has long admired Grandin’s passion for livestock movement and welfare, and supports her call for inclusion of visual learners on farms and beyond.

“Recognizing the need for visual thinkers in every trade is going to be vital in years to come,” Weakley-Scott said. “So, take the shop class, work on small engines, get out in the field with animals, because then you have job security in a profession artificial intelligence can’t replicate!”