Not long ago, I was having a discussion with a group of like minded ladies. As you can imagine, the topics were many and varied, but one of the areas about which that there was strong opinion, was the issue of womens' experiences at sale marts.
This morning, with my chores complete, I was at a loose end. The different groups of sheep had been checked and all of my pets had been fed and watered. My house was reasonably tidy, laundry was as up to date as I can ever get it and the hens were looked after. With my head still buzzing about all things 'Agri Women Ireland' a plan started to form in my mind. I grabbed my coat and off I went.
We had discussed how agriculture was male dominated and how this in turn affected the turn out at local marts around the country. I deemed this a perfect opportunity to drop in on my local one, it being a sheep auction day. To make things better, we actually had had a neighbour bring sheep in to the mart for us, as my husband was off working and we don't have our own trailer.
Armed with a full tank of confidence, I felt brave. I was still scruffy in my work clothes (and covered with all manner of dung and mud), unwashed and devoid of all feminine touches - given that my trip would be an exercise in mens' reactions to a female in their mart, I thought I looked appropriate.
My first human contact upon entering the gates of the carpark, was a beaming smile from a gent who was leaving in a busted up jeep drawing a trailer. I took it as a good sign, that he was happy to see me, though in reality he had probably either made a good sale or bought well. I parked up my jeep.
Should I bring anything? How should I hold myself? What way would I go into the building? Should I just go home? What was I thinking?
It was my first solo trip to the mart though I had been there before. My usual modus operandi was to follow my husband like a lost puppy, eyes wide and nodding inanely when his comrades glanced in my direction. That would obviously not work this time. I found a bit of paper and a pen in the jeep which I tucked into my pocket. I figured that they might be useful if I needed to look business-like. Nobody would know that I was scrawling gibberish on the back of a school note about the latest outbreak of head-lice, though they may indeed notice the conspicuously garish hot pink pen I was clutching.
I eventually entered the building after trying two locked doors and falling over a gate. I was thankful that I was the only person outside which saved me from humiliation. The air was filled with the cries of mothers and their lambs, the smells of sheep, dung and occasionally unwashed farmer. (I checked and it wasn't me!) I was surprised to find I was comfortable enough in this place of shouts and clanging metal, despite the impulse to call off the whole experiment. My prize would be material for a blog post.
I pottered about, looking in various pens of sheep, occasionally nodding or giving them a bit of a feel. Mostly I minded my own business and the fellows there did the same. I recieved barely a glance and saw nobody I knew. There were only a couple of guys there who seemed to be intently staring at me any time I was in their line of vision, but they broke eye contact immediately when I looked their way.
By the time I was there twenty minutes or so, I was relieved to make my escape. I checked on the results of our lots and then, at a loss to find the ladies toilet, galloped back to the safety of my jeep.
Overall, I deemed the mission a success. I was not singled out any way. I did not end up buying anything by accident. I didn't make myself look like a complete idiot. However, aside from the ladies on the staff, I counted only two other females there: one looking like I did, a hard working farm woman, and the other who was beautifully turned out with a gent at her side, who sat in a lofty seat in the auction ring, surveying all of us below.
I'm sure I'll pay the mart another visit without my husband but maybe next time I'll try it with a female companion. Strength in numbers may be the key!
PS. I deliberately did not take any picures at the mart as I didn't want to look like an idiot and undermine any attitudes that may be forming about me! The photo I have included was taken at my first mart visit in August 2015.