August 15, 2003
Young Shepherd Grows Into Mature Business Woman
There aren?t many 16-year-old girls in Connecticut who assist in the birthing process of lambs, but Rachael Gately is no ordinary teenager. She has already helped deliver 44 lambs this year. Furthermore, in slightly more than five years, Gately has turned a hobby of showing sheep at county fairs into a profitable business.
Starting with three ewes and two ewe lambs in 1998, she has tripled her flock every year. She raises Dorset and Texel breeds and at one point owned 106 sheep. Today her flock numbers approximately 47 sheep.
Gately has amassed boxes of ribbons for showing her award-winning ewes and rams in competitions as far away as Louisville, Ky. Along with ribbons comes prize money. In addition, she has cultivated a niche market selling lambs during the Easter holiday season. Her next goal is to develop a market for her breeding stock.
Over the years, Gately?s flock has grown because of improvements in her breeding program. At her first competition, she finished in last place. Undaunted by her poor showing, she learned more about breeding traits and showmanship. Last year her home-grown lamb won the Grand Champion Carcass at The New England States Fair (The Big E) and she finished in 17th place at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville ? a respectable finish, given the higher caliber competition. Recently, one of her competitors told her she has ?come a long way since showing those two old, dumpy ewes.?
Like any good businessperson, she continues to grow her operation while trying to hold expenses down. She plows her earnings back into the business. Prize money is used to pay for feed and supplies. Every year she purchases a new piece of equipment, which either generates additional revenue or improves the flock?s health. One year it was a set of clippers. Another year it was a watering system and lambing panels. This year was the biggest investment year: a 16-foot aluminum trailer to transport animals to competitions.
?I really needed a better way to haul animals to fairs,? said Gately. ?We always looked like a gypsy caravan rolling into town.?
Before the trailer, Gately would borrow up to three pick-up trucks to move animals and equipment to shows. In addition to getting dirty, the animals would sometimes suffer from heat exhaustion caused by the cramped conditions. Her blankets would get scattered among the animals during the trip. Plus, loading and unloading the animals was a time-consuming and back-breaking chore.
She had always been able to afford her new equipment, but this time her savings were not enough to finance the purchase. Gately?s part-time employer, Nancy Barrett, a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture?s Farm Service Agency (FSA), told her about the Youth Loan Program available at the local FSA office. Almost immediately she visited the Hartford-Tolland FSA office and completed the loan application on-line.
?I told Rachael about the loan process and what the proceeds could be used for,? said Ross Eddy, director of the FSA office. ?She was so excited to start the process that she sat at my desk and filed the application on my computer.?
From the middle of July until the end of October, Gately attends at least one show per week. The trailer has saved her time and allows up to 24 animals to travel in a clean, safe environment. Although the loan is for five years, she hopes to have it paid off before she goes to college.
?At the end of last December I stated reminding my mom that she had to take my loan payment to the FSA office on January 2,? said Gately. ?I was so nervous about being late. I kept saying, ?mom, you have to take the payment.??
The soft-spoken Gately is scheduled to graduate next year in the top 10 percent of her class at Somers High School. She plans on attending the University of Connecticut for either pharmacology, pre-med or pre-veterinarian. She will reduce her flock before she graduates, but her mother and sister have already promised to help care for the animals during her absence. In the meantime, she wants to sell more breeding stock to help pay the bills.
Her mother, Faye, sings her praises.
?Rachael isn?t a typical teenager. She loves to talk on the phone and play basketball, but she has accepted so much responsibility and she works so hard, both in school and with her animals. She has been knocked down and bloodied moving sheep around, but she gets back up and finishes the work.?
Operating a small business at the age of 16 isn?t easy, but Gately loves her animals. Her competitive spirit drives her to show sheep and to continue improving her flock?s genetics. What?s more, the kids who once teased her for being a ?farmer? now admire her.
?They see the equipment I?ve paid for, especially the trailer, and they say, ?I want to get some sheep so I can buy a car.??