At the sheep sales in Tasmania’s southern midlands, the yards — whether it be agents, truck drivers, buyers or sellers — are dominated by men.
- Barely a quarter of workers in livestock are women
- The proportion of women truck drivers is even lower
- Women are starting to break into the sector
The handful of women working at the sale stand out in the crowd.
It’s a reflection of the official numbers in the sector according to ABARES.
Just 29 per cent of the sheep, beef cattle and grain farming workforce are women.
One woman who stands out at the Tasmanian livestock sales is young livestock truck driver Sarah Woodruff.
Just 4 per cent of the truck driving workforce are women, according to the Tasmanian Transport Association
“I’ll be honest, it’s probably not that attractive to women to begin with,” Ms Woodruff said.
‘It’s hard work, it’s a hard slog.”
Ms Woodruff has to be handy around sheep and cattle as she shepherds them in and out of her truck, helping to bring more than 10,000 sheep in her 450-horsepower Volvo FMX.
“I have 320 in the first line, then there will be 450 in the second line, and there are a couple of other little lots,” she said.
“It’s a good job; it’s a hard job but it is very rewarding, and the hours are flexible most of the time.”
The young truckie has been named the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association’s national diversity champion and is trying to shine a light on opportunities in the industry for women.
“I don’t have a lot of reach but I’m trying to talk to more and more women about truck driving; I think it’s something that should be talked about in schools as well,” she said.
“It’s a great job; you can earn good money.”
Women stand out in the crowd
Georgia Gorham is the lone female “on the rails”, auctioneering at Tasmanian livestock markets.
“Tassie’s been proactive in terms of accepting women in whatever role we want to do, ” Ms Gorham said.
“My colleagues have been very supportive.”
The industry has not always been that welcoming.
When she was applying for livestock work across the country, interviews often involved the airing of concerns about a woman working in a male-dominated environment.
“It left me frustrated, disheartened and excluded,” Ms Gorham said.
“I can still remember one comment very clearly: ‘We were very impressed with you Georgia, but I just think it’s a handicap to be a woman in this industry’.
“In 2019, I applied for a livestock role with Roberts, which is now a part of Nutrien Ag Solutions business.
“During that interview they asked questions about my skills and experience; they didn’t care about my gender and that’s when I knew I was in with a good and fair chance.
“Now I’m proud to say I’m the first woman to conduct livestock auctions here in Tasmania.”
“It was a big step for me, and I now work alongside some of the best auctioneers in the country.”
“I talk fast enough naturally and it’s an interesting notch to my belt.”
No fuss, just hard work
Quietly spoken Bec Woolley is another woman with a passion for livestock.
An agent for Nutrien (formerly Ruralco), eight years ago she became the first female livestock agent employed by the company in Australia.
“If you earn your place here, if you do your job and do it right, I don’t think it matters what gender you are,” Ms Woolley said.
“I think I’ve earned my stripes.”
She has a handful of important clients at the sale, buying and selling.
“We had a beautiful line of shorn second cross and first cross lambs, then we went into our woolly second cross and first cross lambs,” Ms Woolley said.
“You can afford to buy some lambs now and make money at the other end as far as once you get them to kill weight.”
As for being one of a handful of women in the livestock industry, Ms Woolley doesn’t like to make a fuss.
“We are in a male-dominated industry but to me I chose to be here, and I chose to be good at my job … I don’t want to get caught up in the male-female debate,” she said.
Women want to bed in the livestock business
Australian Livestock Agents Association director Warren Johnston says there has been a lot more interest from females wanting to enter the industry, whether as a livestock agent or on the rails, as an auctioneer.
“In the north of Australia, we’ve some young female auctioneers, as well as Georgia Gorham in the south,” Mr Johnston said.
“At our schools we run around the country for ALPA, we’re getting females.”
While there is no special program to encourage women to join the industry, Mr Johnston says “ALPA will assist male or female in whatever their journey might be to work in the livestock industry.”
Clean accessible toilets few and far between for truck drivers
As for the trucking industry and their toilet issues, the Tasmanian industry body recognises the lack of good toilets as being a big turn-off for everyone but particularly for women.
“We have a desperate need for better facilities for truck drivers throughout the state,” the Tasmanian Transport Association’s Michelle Harwood said.
In the meantime, the organisation is tossing up whether to run a second-driver training program targeting women, to help meet the dire shortage of truck drivers in general.
The last word goes to livestock Ms Woodruff who would love to see more women behind the wheel.