There are few better-known women in the agricultural industry than Heather Pritchard, who has dedicated her career to pedigree livestock at Harrison and Hetherington’s Borderway Mart, based in Carlisle, where she heads up the pedigree sales department and is marketing manager.

Heather spoke with Kathryn Dick:

What is your background in agriculture?

I was born and brought up on my family’s dairy farm, near Gretna, on the Dumfries-shire side, alongside my two older brothers. I’ve always been an outdoor girl and was used to driving tractors, feeding calves and milking cows.

I then got into showing dairy cattle and sheep at our local shows, and caught the ‘showing bug’. As a result of this, I travelled up and down the country. My first year of showing Texel sheep, I got the championship at Cumberland Show.

What path did your career take?

I got to the point where I had to leave school and I wanted to go back home to work on the farm, but the farm was too small to carry another member of staff so I had to go out and find work for myself. I signed up to the local college to do a business administration course, but a few weeks before I was due to start college a job appeared for an office junior at Harrison and Hetherington, here at Borderway Mart.

I applied for the job and then around nine years later the pedigree sales manager position arose. Initially, the company were looking for a man to head up the position, however, I thought to myself I’m going to show everyone what I’m capable of and put myself forward for the job as I enjoyed the pedigree sales and I could see there was opportunities available to develop that side of it. I was placed on a trial run … seems that I’m still on trial three decades on!

So can you tell me a bit about your job?

My role as manager for the pedigree sales division has been shaped by my on-the-job experience. My first 10 years into the business was primarily about continually working with the small amount of pedigree sales that we held.

At the time, a man called John Thornborrow – who was nicknamed ‘Mr Pedigree’ – was the driving force behind pedigree sales in the country during the late 1980s and 1990’s. When he semi-retired and once his business’ had been bought over, the breed societies wanted to maintain a base with ourselves due to where we are positioned in the country. The late David Tomlinson and myself then set about building the pedigree sales going forward.

That meant that, very rapidly overnight, we had to develop a pedigree division and went from doing half-a-dozen pedigree sales to doing 30 of them throughout the year – and it’s been a hectic job ever since!

Have you ever received discrimination as a female in your job, or at any other time?

It took sheer determination and my passion towards the pedigree breeds to encourage me to apply for the pedigree sales manager role, which, at the time, was a male dominated scene.

I would say it was the customers more than anyone else who were initially very cautious of me – you have to remember that this was a generation who were used to just working with only male auctioneers on a one-to-one basis and that was as much contact as they had with the market. Customers would come in and I would introduce myself and explain my role, however, I would still be classed as just another one of the ‘office girls’ that sat behind a desk and did as they were told.

Have you ever felt that you have encouraged other women to follow in your footsteps?

Since I started, the company has been excellent at being aware of gender equality and it doesn’t matter whether your male or female, if you have the ability and the drive to do the job then they give everyone equal opportunity to fulfil that role.

Now, when you look across the board at all our centres, we have females in all areas. We don’t have any female auctioneers on the livestock side, but you see women taking different auctioneering paths into equine or property.

Times have changed and I don’t think any of our customers would question whether it was a man or a woman that they were dealing with, which is refreshing to see.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I love the variation in the job, you never get two days the same. Whether it’s a day-to-day sale, a weekly sale or dispersal sales, the enjoyment is working with people and it’s not just all about their farming life. You get to know them personally, as well as their families, and as a result you build a level of trust between the customers and the market staff.

You have to remember that the market is maybe our customer’s one and only time to get away from the farm. It’s the social aspect, so it’s nice to have a chat with them about the weather or the latest family holiday or sporting events and make them feel welcome.

In your opinion, what are the main problems in the agricultural industry?

I could make a big list, but the main one currently, is the indecision of Brexit. It’s dragging it’s heels and everyone just wants a decision so we can move on and know where they stand.

As a farming industry we don’t know what is going to happen and, as a result, we cannot make any forward planning.

Another issue would be trying to get confidence back into farming, both with our farming community and the public. Farmers need the confidence to back their livelihood and to prove to the public how vital agriculture is for the country to survive.

The UK needs the farming industry to make the country operate, from putting food on the table to clothes on people’s backs. Basically, we need to educate the general public about what we actually do.

Are you involved in any other organisations outwith farming?

I am yes! I enjoy flowers and am a member of Scaleby flower club. I also love most aspects of sport and enjoy curling, and still play a few games of hockey, but not competitively! Just anything that involves being outdoors suits me.

What’s your favourite breed of cattle And sheep? And why?

I love all breeds, shapes and sizes of cattle – no preference! I always say, it doesn’t matter what breed of cattle you own, if it’s a good animal then who am I to judge! With sheep, I only like the woolly types!

What has been the biggest change in agriculture since your time at H and H?

The biggest change would be in the mid to late 1990s, when agriculture took a big hit with BSE. Then, hot on the heels of that, we had the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the early 2000s, which was devastating for agriculture.

Both issues didn’t just affect the farmers but also any agricultural related business at that time, as well as the public. It took a lot of courage and determination for the farmers to get back on their feet and carry on.

Also, Basic Farm Payments have taken a change since my time in the business and the likes of environmental support systems have encouraged there to be less stock kept on farms, causing a decline in livestock numbers. As a result, it hasn’t encouraged the same amount of young people to follow behind as the next generation of our farming community.

Technology is also one of the biggest changes. Everything is done online nowadays, including catalogues, livestock records and sales reports, which is the way forward. Can you believe that young people don’t know what a fax machine is now?

How do you relax away from the sale ring? (and you can’t go to a show!)

When I have the time, I like going to various shows, both livestock and flower shows. I do a bit of commentary at local and national shows so that is quite enjoyable. I like going to watch the rugby once in a while and enjoy just going a long walk!

If Carlsberg made sale days, what would your perfect day be?

Well my perfect day would revolve around gin and tonic, you can have it anytime of the day. There are so many flavours and variates now that you can pick and choose what you feel like drinking at that moment in time – and not be totally legless as a result!

You work with your husband, your boss, what’s that like?

Well David originates from Herefordshire and came up here on a Young Farmers exchange. He ended up getting a job with the company and started his career at Lockerbie before being transferred to Carlisle around the same time as I started – and the rest is history!

We have always kept our work life and home life separate – business does not come home with us. It has to be that way or you’d just be bogged down with work the entire time.

It works and the staff here see us as two different people that they can all come to for advice or support. If I have any worries or issues, I can go to David for advice, and vice-versa – we make a great team.