WHEN Cindy-Lee Dowdell found out she was pregnant three years ago, she was ready to reluctantly hang up her boots and kiss goodbye to a career in agriculture.
Today, the 22-year-old is a full-time mum, works part-time at Paradise Enterprises, Donnybrook, as a feedlot farmhand and recently announced the launch of Empowered by Agriculture, an intensive workshop series inspired by her own experiences.
Ms Dowdell grew up in Collie but she didn't have a background in farming or agriculture.
As a child, she watched her pop work at a dairy and from there developed an interest in the industry, particularly animals.
"Initially, I clung to my mum and wouldn't let go, as I was terrified of animals," Ms Dowdell said.
"As I got older, I fell in love with them and decided I wanted to be a veterinary nurse.
"But I hated being indoors, in a clinic."
When Ms Dowdell was in year 12 she landed a job milking cows at a dairy in Harvey with her love for livestock and burning desire to work on a farm, making the 4am starts worth her while.
Six months later, she stumbled across a vacancy for a feedlot assistant with Paradise Enterprises on Gumtree and decided to give it a crack.
"I applied thinking, 'let's see how this goes' and a week later I had an interview with Gary and Josie Dimasi (owners of Paradise Enterprises) and a week after that I received a phone call that I got the job," Ms Dowdell said.
"Gary and Josie said they could see a passion in me and it all kind of snowballed from there."
Ms Dowdell was thrown in the deep end of feedlotting with zero experience or knowledge on the industry.
She described herself as "very naive" when she started out, admitting she did not know the difference between beef and dairy cattle.
"I think within three days I realised 'wow, there is a bit of a difference'," she said.
"I actually think I cried every day for the first three months I was at Paradise.
"Gary will confirm this, he didn't think I would make it.
"But every time I got knocked back, I got up stronger.
"A lot of people don't get the opportunity I did - that foot in the door in agriculture with no experience.
"I think that's what really pushed me to dig deep because it was a very unique opportunity I was given."
For Ms Dowdell it was the unknown she found to be the most challenging and frustrating, as well as trying to store so much new information in any given day.
She also didn't have confidence working with cattle.
"They are big animals and I am only 55 kilograms," Ms Dowdell said.
"That's how you learn though, isn't it?
"I was very lucky to have the job I did and that's what pushed me to keep going."
Just as she started to get into the swing of things, everything changed for Ms Dowdell when she discovered she was pregnant.
When the pink positive lines appeared on the test, she was in such a shock, she couldn't even cry.
The then 19-year-old was overcome with pure nothingness before she was trampled by a rollercoaster of emotion - excitement, sadness, anxiety, love and anger.
Talking to Ms Dowdell now, it is hard to imagine she ever doubted her future, career and abilities as a young mum.
But she did.
Perhaps what clouded Ms Dowdell's career confidence most was that the four preceding generations in her bloodline all fell pregnant, had a child and shifted their entire focus to family at 19 years of age.
Growing up, Ms Dowdell yearned for more and constantly assured herself, "that won't be me", particularly after she secured her dream job at Paradise Enterprises in 2016.
Within 18 months, a test confirmed the then teenager's greatest fear - she was pregnant.
Her entire world came crashing down and anxiety set her brain into overdrive.
"How am I supposed to be a mum and have this career? How am I supposed to have a job?" she asked.
"I can't handle this.
"They can't keep me on if I can't do my job, my job is physical."
Ms Dowdell recalled yelling at a co-worker the day she discovered she was pregnant, then crying because she yelled, before crying again because the cattle heard her.
She said she was "very emotional" driving home, which was unusual, and realised her period was late.
"I did a test and yep, sure enough I was pregnant,'' she said.
"I thought 'dammit, I knew this would happen, it is a family curse'.
"I felt like I had failed because I had so many goals and I was so young, I had no idea about being a mum."
The next day, Ms Dowdell told Mr and Ms Dimasi, breaking down in tears and fearing the worst.
She didn't think it would be fair for them to keep her on shift, if she couldn't do her job.
Instead she received overwhelming support.
"You can still be a mum and have a career," the pair told an emotional Ms Dowdell.
"It was a simple sentence that gave me the kick in the butt I needed," she said.
"Gary and Josie are very good at keeping confidence in me and giving me a boost whenever I need it."
Her duties were lightened, as her pregnancy progressed and she adapted to her body's changes.
For example if she had to push cattle up in the yards, she would drive a buggy or ask for help and she would enter pens with cattle with caution.
Ms Dowdell worked right up until she was 33 weeks into the pregnancy and recalled a moment from that time, which she labelled as "hilarious".
"I remember it distinctly," she laughed.
"It was April when I found out I was pregnant, so I had been wearing jumpers and jackets in winter because it was bloody cold.
"Anyway the first summer day, we were loading a truck and I took my jacket off and the truck driver looked at me and said, 'what the hell is that? When did that happen?'
"And I was like 'dude, you have seen me every week for six months, this happened six months ago.
"I was so small and had this basketball of a belly."
While on maternity leave Ms Dowdell continued to work on her development in the industry, studying for a Certificate in Beef Management.
She found the patience, support and understanding of her co-workers to be most helpful throughout her pregnancy and counted herself lucky to have them as role models.
Ms Dowdell said they would all find humour in her being pregnant and trying to do different jobs in the workplace.
"I remember I used to fit through the rails at work, then I got stuck one day and I was like, 'dammit, I am getting bigger'.
"It is fun when you are in a work environment where you have jokes and are a big family."
Ms Dowdell gave birth to her son, Clancy, in January 2019.
When she held her baby boy for the first time, she was overcome with love and knew it was all worth it.
"I wouldn't have changed it for the world," she said.
But within three months the new mum was "bored" and the blues started to kick in.
"I didn't feel myself, I was stuck in four walls," Ms Dowdell said.
"I remember I went to work to help with loadouts for a few hours in between breastfeeding and I felt like I was back.
"Just having a few hours to myself, in my job and with the cattle believe it or not, helped me mentally become myself again.
"After a year of doing a few hours here and there, I went back to work part-time, two days a week.
"Now my little boy is two-and-a-half and loving life."
Ms Dowdell said some days were hard, but the work environment, team and having supportive bosses meant she wouldn't want to work in any other industry.
And hard work paid off, after she was announced as one of the winners in this year's ABC Heywire competition.
Ms Dowdell's success has helped her share her story about becoming a young mum, following her dream and also launching Empowered by Agriculture.
"My experience made me think agriculture is such an amazing career for women because it can facilitate us through all stages of life," she said.
"When you're young you can do the cattle work, when you have a child you are able to work flexible hours, then there are the office roles, science roles and every other role you could possibly think of, which can keep you in the industry.
"I think it is an industry where women are able to have a career in which they can still move up the ladder and change roles (depending on their situation)."
Empowered by Agriculture's mission is to promote the agricultural industry among women through a hands-on workshop series.
Ms Dowdell said while social media was great in promoting the industry, it didn't give people the opportunity to "get their hands dirty".
She said the program was for people, like herself, who wanted a career in agriculture but have no background or step into the industry.
"It is for people who want to expand their knowledge and get that experience behind them," Ms Dowdell said.
"It was for people wanting to gain more confidence or improve their own properties.
"There's a lot of people we can reach with this."
Empowered by Agriculture is a two-day workshop held at Paradise Enterprises in Donnybrook, four times a year in a boot camp style format.
As part of the hands-on program, participants follow a calf through the duration of the program from weaning, performance checks, feedlotting and finally carcase grading.
Its main goals are to help women grow their passion, knowledge and confidence in their roles along the beef supply chain.
Ms Dowdell said workshops would be broken up into both practical and in-classroom learning style formats with the support of industry professionals.
"The event will cover everything from weaning calves, correctly vaccinating, breeding and nutrition, feedlotting, maximising performance through soil health and nutrition, bovine anatomy right through to carcase grading and meat cuts," she said.
"The participants will also learn about the financial options available if they decide they want to start their own business or farm one day, as well as property management options if they want to lease.
"We want them to write down their goals and we want to help them achieve it."
Ms Dowdell said Empowered by Agriculture was an opportunity she would have loved to have been given when she started in the industry.
"Before I started working at Paradise Enterprises I had no confidence," she said.
"Having a career in agriculture has given that to me and has empowered me, which is why I have called the workshop Empowered by Agriculture."
Ms Dowdell added that the women would learn how to work cattle in a simple and safe format to teach them to use initiative and encourage them to "think outside the box".
And she hoped those skills would help them to secure employment in the industry with plenty of opportunities for networking.
"There will be a networking cocktail event (to conclude the workshops), which will be open to local producers and farmers, sponsors and helpers.
"In the South West there isn't much of that provided.
"I strongly believe the agricultural industry is so good because we all work together to benefit each other and that's how it should be.
"If this pilot program goes well, I really want to host a workshop around horticulture and sheep to encourage more people to get involved in the agricultural industry."
Empowered by Agriculture has also got plans to visit WA schools to promote and educate children in the career opportunities available in agriculture.
Ms Dowdell said there were many science and business-based opportunities students weren't aware of because they were not informed.
Having already achieved so much in such a short amount of time, what is the end goal for Ms Dowdell?
When asked she said eventually she would like to own a commercial stud, breed cattle and provide them to the people who helped her get to where she is today, Paradise Enterprises.
"I want to breed quality beef cattle and provide them to Gary and Josie to feed," she said.
"That's my end goal, as well as doing these workshop series and helping more young people.
"I also want to inspire people and for them to know that with hard work, passion and support, women with children can have a career and still be great mothers."
- For more information or to get involved as a sponsor email empoweredbyagriculture@ gmail.com or phone Ms Dowdell 0439 830 580.