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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

‘I have gained all my tickets for dump trucks, 360° excavators and the bulldozer’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in discussion with Gemma Howey (‘the dozer chick’) in this week’s women in ag segment. Read part one of this comprehensive interview.

“At eighteen, I got my first lambing job, with very little lambing experience. However, the estate shepherd gave me an opportunity and had the patience to teach me.

I pick things up quite quickly, and my strong interest and passion helped. Honestly, I struggled with confidence, and to just give things a go because I always felt people would judge or criticise me if I made a mistake, but it was the complete opposite.

I learned so much, and my passion pushed me to take on other lambing jobs elsewhere. Travelling to different farms gained me vital insights into different ways of farming different lambing systems.

Lambing different sheep breeds, I learnt new skills and techniques everywhere I worked. These jobs built my confidence immensely, so I took on nightshift lambing, which was extremely intense and tested me because I was on my own.

It helped me realise how much I was capable of because despite being a worrier, if things go wrong. Nightshift helped reduce these stresses and taught me to prioritise my jobs according to their importance.

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The hours during lambing are extremely long and demanding, always. With some lambings, I have not slept for three days. If I am not achieving 15+ hours a day for 12 solid weeks, I am not putting my all in.

I treat every lambing job as if the sheep were my own, which, I feel, is why sixteen years on, I am still as passionate as when I started.

The sense of achievement and satisfaction I feel bringing new life into the world and saving lambs is something I cannot explain.

Hard or complicated lambings do not phase me, no matter how tired I may be. Alternatively, if it is a stressful day, the adrenaline rush and feeling of success I get when a lamb takes its first breath is absolutely awesome.

‘Beast from the East’

Let us not be naive, though. Lambing is not all sunshine and roses, so to speak. Lamb losses are part and parcel of the job, and unfortunately, we do not save them all. ‘Where there is livestock, there is deadstock’.

My worst, most devastating lambing was when ‘Beast from the East’ hit us. I was lambing at Lockerbie at the time. We lost strong, healthy lambs 5+-days-old. It was devastating and heart-breaking watching so many lambs cold and starved.

That day, I was crying that these lambs I brought into the world, nursed, and had watched skipping in fields days previous, were now fighting for life.

Yes, we saved so many, but that did not take away the fact we were unable to save them all. The farmer turned to me and said: “do not concentrate on the ones you lose; concentrate on keeping the living ones alive”.

“I never forget hearing that because it is very true. Without our skills, passion, and determination to save lambs, inevitably the losses would have been far more severe.

So always, be proud of how many lambs you are saving on the grand scale of things, rather than focusing too much on the losses.

That day I broke down. The Beast from the East truly showed how much love, emotion and passion I have towards my job because ultimately, they were not my sheep, and I would still be paid no matter the outcome.


All my jobs over the years have gained me a lot of new friends, and the majority of positions fixed me up for jobs for multiple years.

Every job has taught me new skills or improved existing skills, and I do go by the phrase ‘every day is a school day’. So again, if you want it, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.

Until I completed this interview, I truly did not realise quite how much I have achieved so far in my life, but I have not quite told you it all yet. I have one more string to my bow.

Becoming ‘the dozer chick’

Still unsure how I mastered this ‘man’s job’, but I took on a job on a 25-tonne articulated dump truck about seven years ago.

I hauled stone to lay roads for timber lorries to extract timber from woods. During this time, I began operating a bulldozer, and I mastered the art of dozer driving. Now, I have gained all my tickets for dump trucks, 360° excavators and best of all, the bulldozer.

I have never come across another female dozer operator, which has led to many people referring to me as ‘the dozer chick’.

This has led to job offers from firms that have never seen me operate the machine solely based on my reputation and word of mouth.

Yet unfortunately, some have refused my work because of my gender, but they are the minority in this industry.

I have been involved in many different types of jobs, including road laying for arctic timber wagons, clearing farm fields for shed erections for chicken sheds or cattle sheds and forming slurry lagoons in fields for dairy farms as large as two-million-gallon capacity.

The biggest construction job I was lucky enough to be involved in was on a steep, remote hillside near Eskdalemuir in the Scottish Borders.

I worked on this site for two months, and the goal was to create a level site on a steep hillside roughly 1.5 hectares in size. This site enabled the construction of one of the first legal cannabis farms in Scotland to produce cannabis oils for medical purposes.

Gemma Howey is known as 'the dozer chick'. I have gained all my tickets for dump trucks, 360° excavators and best of all, the bulldozer.

Believe and achieve

Overall, I feel this industry is not just a job; it is a way of life. You cannot just switch your computer off and go home because tomorrow will do.

Also, if you like your five day week, 8 hour days, with every weekend off, this is certainly not the job for you. I admire all the females I have met who are successful within this sector.

We have had to have a uniqueness to get us noticed and undoubtedly have put in twice as much effort as any male to prove our capabilities.

Never admit defeat even when we may be broken. Overall, I learnt to embrace criticism rather than let it knock me down; I would grow from it and thrive off proving doubters and critics wrong.

Never allow other opinions to stop you from achieving your goals. Many who judge are jealous or threatened by your ambitions and capabilities.

If a female like me with self-belief issues, no agricultural qualifications and no C. V managed to achieve so much so far in life through hard work, determination, ambition, passion and thriving off criticism, then any female with similar traits can be successful in agriculture.

The future

The long-term dream for me is to return to China on a long-term contract and use my passion and ambition to ideally become known as one of the best and highly regarded in my field.

Also, I would be very keen to teach youngsters lambing skills, livestock welfare and share my knowledge and passion to encourage the younger generation to consider a career in sheep farming.

I feel the sheep industry lacks up and coming keen youngsters, which will be drastically impacted in the future.

I truly hope this interview about my career helps to inspire like-minded people to consider and pursue a career in agriculture.”

To share your story like ‘the dozer chick’, email – [email protected]

See more women in ag profiles.

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