FOR most of the 23 years that Dr Gabrielle Young has been a practising veterinarian in the Jamaica livestock industry, she has been the only woman among a group of men. Now, as she oversees 15 men on Nutramix's Livestock Support Team, and even more men at her Clarendon-based TrinJam farm, Dr Young does not feel any different about being the leading lady.
“That has been my life since I started working. I'm usually the only woman in the room, or on the field. I don't know it any other way, so I don't have anything to compare it to,” she told All Woman. “I've never really had an issue working with men and standing my ground, because I'm not a pushover. I think I'm a fair person, and I am just as rough-and-tumble as the rest of them.”
Furthermore, Dr Young believes that her style of leadership —demonstrating how things should be done instead of just instructing — has served her quite well over the years, and she has earned the respect of the men as much as many of them have earned her friendship.
“When you are a part of a team, everybody contributes. I've never really had a problem with the guys. I've always had really good relationships with them, some of them I've known for 18 years, and we're still friends,” she said positively.
But while she enjoys farming with men, including her husband and two adolescent sons, Dr Young admitted that she probably prefers working with animals even more.
“As corny as it sounds, I really do like animals,” the vet who specialises in ruminant health and reproduction said. “I find them much easier to deal with than human beings. What you see is what you get. They're not underhand. They're simple.”
Dr Young's deep love for animals was nurtured while she grew up on an 11-acre farm on the island of Tobago, where her dad would always have animals, especially dogs, around. Even after her family moved to Trinidad on a smaller property, her father would still bring home strays and rescues. Little Gabrielle got a pet German Shepherd named Ayatollah when she was nine years old, and he accompanied her everywhere through her teenage years.
“He lived for 13 years. When he died I was devastated. I bawled my eyes out,” Dr Young recalled sorrowfully.
What had not died, however, was her passion for caring for animals, and how peaceful and comfortable she felt around them. No one was surprised when he decided to study to become a doctor of veterinary medicine at the University of the West Indies. After completing the programme, Dr Young moved to Jamaica in 1998 for a job with Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA).
“I worked with JSPCA for a year and a half, then I got a job with Jamaica Livestock, where I worked for about another year and a half,” she shared. “Then I got a job at Nutramix to be a field veterinarian, and I've been with Nutramix ever since.”
While she and her team worked across Jamaica educating small farmers on ways to improve the health and productivity of their animals, Dr Young decided that she wanted to have her own farm. She had also met and fell in love with Robert Vaughan, the Jamaican man to whom she has been married for the last 15 years.
“We found a piece of land in Clarendon, and we bought 38 acres and we started TrinJam farms,” she beamed. “We started with ten sheep in 2012, and then we slowly started to get a few goats, and then I started to use the things that I've learnt, like artificial insemination, on my own animals. Now we have quite a few hundred sheep.”
As an expert at using the most modern and efficient breeding techniques to boost productivity, Dr Young has been at the forefront of changing the way livestock farmers in the region are doing things. But of course, the mother of two also had to do a few things unconventionally to balance her passion and parenting.
“There was a time when I scheduled to ultrasound a gentleman's goats, but I had completely forgotten it was a public holiday, so I had no one to keep the boys,” she recalled, laughing. “So there I was on this farm, with a baby in a harness on my back, while I was ultrasounding the goats.”
Both her farm and family have come a long way since then, as her sons are now old and skilled enough to compete in the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show and win prizes with their own animals.
“One thing I always wanted to do was goat's milk, so we've also been doing that for about a year now,” she shared proudly, expressing that she loves goat's milk more than cow's milk. “We also do goat's milk yoghurt, and we sell all our lambs locally to farmers, and cuts to consumers.”
She chucked that one of her goals is for her farm to become a goat's milk empire. The most pressing ambition of hers, however, is to raise her sons to be good men.
“My number one goal is to help my sons become responsible, productive men, who actively contribute to society,” she said. “I want my sons to attend university and graduate with an education, and become upstanding men. I believe the family situation in the world is a mess, and I think men need to play a bigger part in the world.”
Dr Young also believes that agriculture can be used as a catalyst for change and a solution to other problems in our country and region.
“If we produce more food for ourselves in livestock, then we can really improve the standard of living for a lot of people,” she reasoned. “For example, in my area, I help all the little farmers with their animals so they can produce more, because I know that if the whole area does well, then our community will be more developed. So on a larger scale, the better everybody does, then we will have less crime and less problems. I really believe that agriculture is the way forward for the Caribbean.”