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LIC Begins Artificial Insemination Of Millions Of Cows - Recruits Encouraged To Put Hands Up

Artificial breeding technicians (AB techs) across the country have begun rolling up their sleeves in order to get millions of dairy cows pregnant over the next six months. Their role is critical in producing the next generation of animals and ensuring New Zealand’s hugely valuable milk supply continues.

Last year LIC, which employs around 900 AB techs between September and March, oversaw the insemination of over four million cows. While undertaking this work, the cooperative is also seeking new recruits to train ahead of next season.

Once trained many return year-after-year including the McCarthy family. Paul McCarthy first trained with LIC in 1978 as a 20-year-old. After nearly 40 years he has inseminated thousands of cows while running a 134ha dairy farm in Galatea in the eastern Bay of Plenty with his wife Johanna.

For Paul, working as an AB tech with LIC is something he loves – and it seems his passion has rubbed off on his family.

“My brother-in-law works as an LIC AB tech near Ashburton and my three youngest daughters – Anita, 31, Laura, 30, and Erin, 28 – all became fully-qualified AB tech’s about five years ago. It’s not the easiest thing to learn,” says Paul. “It’s hard on your arms and hands. It can be very frustrating and there are plenty of times you’ll ask yourself ‘what am I doing this for?’ but then one day it all clicks. Once you’ve got it, and you’ve handled the pressure of training, there’s a lot of pride there; it makes you feel good.

“My daughter Laura only just got through because there’s a height and length-of-arm criteria for the job. But she just got in and did her apprenticeship in the South Island where you’re dealing with large Friesian cows and she was able to inseminate those big cows. She’s a very determined person.”

What makes a good AB tech?

According to Paul, having good empathy for farmers and animals is vital as well as a passion for the job.

“All the young AB techs I know are immensely proud of their role in the dairy industry. I also inseminated in Australia last year and New Zealand techs are in demand over there, as they are everywhere. Our adherence to hygiene, our training, our technique – it’s all outstanding. LIC should be proud as well.”

LIC’s national artificial breeding manager, Dave Hale, says over recent years he’s seen an increasing number of people without a farming background becoming qualified AB techs.

“Most of our trainees have a rural background, of some description but it is not a prerequisite. They do need to show an affinity to animals, passion, resilience, and attention to detail, good communication skills and a willingness to succeed. We’re expecting a good level of interest this year as people seek new jobs due to COVID-19 across the country. Working as an AB tech is rewarding and enjoyable. You’re out on farm meeting farmers, working with animals and not tied to an office which is an increasingly attractive option for people after lockdowns.”

Applications for the next intake of LIC AB techs open on 1 October with training commencing in February. The training process is an intense two-week course with attendees having to pass the first week before moving onto the second week. Initially, trainees work on artificial cows to make sure the insemination technique is learnt. The introduction of artificial cows by LIC in 2015, with silicon parts that have been made to resemble as close as possible the internal reproductive organs of a cow, is an initiative that has lifted the overall AB apprentice technician pass rate in recent years.

If a trainee passes this course, they will become an apprentice for 12 months with LIC and will go on to do AB in the spring with a senior technician who will guide and mentor them on the intricate processes on how to manage their own AB run. During this time, LIC monitor their NRR (non-return rate) and trainees also complete some NZQA papers relative to their work. If they obtain an acceptable NRR, and complete their papers, they qualify for a NZ Certificate in Artificial Insemination of Livestock, meaning they can become an AB technician for LIC.

Training takes place at six training sites across New Zealand between February and May. Applicants pay a training fee of $899 (plus GST) which covers participation in LIC’s 12-month apprenticeship programme including four national unit standards administered by Primary ITO.

Once applicants have successfully passed, they’re eligible for a refund on their training fee as part of the Government’s apprenticeship programmes.

For more information visit LIC’s website.

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