LIC national AB manager, Dave Hale, says AB technicians are tasked with one of the most important jobs on farm – getting cows in-calf, but their success in this area can be compromised by the state of facilities provided.
“The variation between facilities on each farm was vast, with most technicians required to carry out their job in the confines of milking sheds.
“Balancing precariously on unstable platforms while inseminating cows wasn’t out of the ordinary and it wasn’t good enough.”
To ensure LIC’s team of 840+ AB technicians were working in a safe environment and given the best chance to get farmer’s cows in-calf, the farmer-owned co-operative developed a national standard for AB facilities and trained a team of 30 technicians to carry out checks throughout the country.
To date, reportable health and safety incidents for LIC AB technicians in the 2018 season have dropped by an incredible 47%*.
“Although it was common practice for facilities to be checked before the start of the AB season, the approach wasn’t consistent.
“Establishing a national standard for AB facilities and implementing this nationwide is a first for New Zealand. It has meant all farms are treated fairly as they’re checked and graded based on the same criteria.”
The national standard includes requirements to ensure animals are held safely and securely and technician’s footing is firm, safe and on the same level as the animal.
“In addition to the bronze minimum standard, we set up silver and gold grades. This is a long-term initiative so we wanted to give farmers a gold standard to aspire to.”
Hale acknowledges there have been some farmers that have challenged the standard but once the purpose of the checks was understood, most have been understanding and some even welcoming.
“This isn’t a tick box exercise – there’s a bigger picture. We simply want our staff to have the best opportunity to get our farmer’s cows in-calf and return home safely every day.”
The checks have been implemented as standard practice for the co-op and are continuing throughout the country.
“To date, just over 6,500 of our approximately 8,600 AB facilities have been checked. We’re finishing off the first round of checks with the aim to have inspected and graded every AB facility where LIC’s AB technician service will be supplied in spring 2019 by the end of June.”
The co-op has already seen some promising results. Total reportable incidents for the 2018 season (ending 31 May 2019) across the AB technician group has so far reduced by 47% compared to 2017 and 43% compared to 2016.
Hale wants to thank farmers for their support to the campaign and the health and safety of their technicians.
“Without the help and co-operation of our farmer shareholders, this campaign would not have achieved such an outstanding initial result.
“We want our farmers to have the best chance to get their cows in-calf when they’re first presented. AB facilities that have an organised infrastructure, allow the technician easy access to the cows and reduce tech and cow stress, can go a long way to help achieve that.”
Innovative approach at off-farm facility gets tick of approval
Each year Paul and Rosie Franklin synchronise around 600 heifers and mate them off-farm near Waipukurau.
“All we had at the grazier’s property was conventional cattle yards,” Paul says.
“It was just a long race. You could put the first heifer securely in a front bail, but to inseminate all the others somebody was having to climb over the rails to get access to the race and all the other heifers in there.”
“We’ve known the facilities have needed upgrading for a long time.”
The visit by a member of LIC’s AB facilities team prior to last season’s mating seemed to provide timely impetus for the upgrade.
“The owner provided a bit of timber for the job and we got a second-hand herringbone rail from a nearby farmer. We made a gate coming off the side of the race, so we poured concrete, set some pipe in the ground, and welded the herringbone to it.”
The innovative approach was endorsed by LIC’s AB facilities team, bringing the facility up-to-standard for safe and efficient artificial breeding.
“It was a lot easier than we thought,” Paul said.
“There’s about a dozen or so bails. The heifers all filed down the race and were in the correct position for the techs to do the insems. The way it’s set-up now, we can have up to three techs working at a time.”
Paul was happy with the result, as were the AB technicians who were relieved of the stress associated with having to climb rails.
“It’s good as gold, the secret is having the cattle flowing-in there and keeping them tight,” Paul said.
* Total reportable incidents (serious harm, lost time and medical treatment injuries) for the 2018 season (ending 31 May 2019) across LIC’s AB technician group compared to 2017