Top team delivering results for Irish producers

LIC’s semen collection centre for European markets, located in Awahuri New Zealand, could not have been in better hands under the 90-year combined expertise of Susan Paul and Lance Pettigrew.

Lance’s retirement earlier this year marked a milestone, and both individuals have taken great pride in supporting LIC’s European collections. Likewise, LIC has been privileged to have two of its most experienced employees running the centre.

LIC's collection centre for European markets, located in Awahuri, NZ
LIC's collection centre for European markets, located in Awahuri, NZ

Susan Paul – European Union Semen Collection Centre and Laboratory Manager

Susan Paul - LIC European Semen Collection Centre and Laboratory ManagerSusan commenced employment for the then New Zealand Dairy Board in 1981. This year marks her 42nd anniversary with LIC, an extraordinary testament to the company and people who work there.

“I started working at Newstead, (LIC’s main campus) in the semen processing laboratory and was supervising all production until I moved to the Awahuri EU Centre near Palmerston North, New Zealand in 2018. It’s only from this centre, that product can be sent to our European markets.

“During my tenure, I’ve witnessed and been involved with implementing countless new technologies and equipment.” 

She says just one example of this is how frozen semen processing has evolved over the years. Back in the 80’s, frozen semen was processed in milk. The standard dose rate contained 30 million sperm cells. This dose rate has been reduced by 50% with advances made in the development of sperm cryopreservation media, improvements to semen processing techniques, and rigorous quality control systems in every aspect of production.

“Over the past 40 years I’ve also enjoyed working with staff across LIC as well as our business partners at the time, here and around the world. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in some exciting projects, technological developments, and challenges, such as:

  • training staff in Genetics Australia on semen processing techniques so we could prove the young bulls included in our joint venture during the NZ liquid spring mating season
  • heading to Boston to evaluate and work with a company in the early stages of sexed semen research
  • an annual excursion to assist in stag semen production and ET work undertaken.

“But all these things could only have been achieved due to a team effort, and I’m incredibly fortunate to work beside a group of amazing, super skilled and passionate people who work tirelessly for LIC and our farmers both here and overseas.”

The Awahuri EU Centre underwent a major refurbishment in 2019. The building’s interior was upgraded to create a contiguous EU semen processing and storage facility with a dedicated semen sexing laboratory. Sexing Technologies now operates out of the Awahuri EU Centre year-round to meet the growing demand for this sexed product in Europe.

“I’m proud to lead the staff working in the EU Centre laboratory, as our small team always strives to ensure the very best product is exported while complying with stringent export requirements. We’re subject to routine inspections and audits to ensure our on-going compliance by both the NZ government and by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office.”

Specialty sexed semen lab at LIC's Awahuri collection centre
Dedicated sexed semen laboratory at Awahuri

Lance Pettigrew reflects on 45 years at LIC

Lance Pettigrew, farms manager at LIC's European Collection Centre in AwahuriA pivotal figure within her team, Lance Pettigrew, the Manawatu farms manager commenced his journey with LIC on June 12 1978, at Awahuri. Back in those days, he held the position of a stockman, and over the years, he transitioned through various roles, including collection officer, maintenance officer, and ultimately, Awahuri supervisor.

In 1995, LIC purchased the 726-acre Feilding farm, with Lance transitioning there to start the development phase, which encompassed activities such as installing fencing, creating races, drainage and so on. Later on in 1998, he moved to Newstead, Hamilton and took on the position of farms manager. Eleven years later he moved back to the Manawatu and Feilding Farm as a senior farm technician.

In 2008, the Feilding farm was sold, with the exception of a single 190 acre block that LIC continues to farm today, in addition to the Awahuri farm of 330 acres.

This presented Lance the opportunity to assume the role of farms manager for Manawatu, overseeing operations in both the Awahuri and Feilding blocks.

Awahuri now runs the EU Centre which splits the farm into 3 areas, EU Quarantine, EU Centre and Awahuri Hold. EU Quarantine is an area used for pre-quarantine isolation and disease testing before bulls can enter the EU Centre.

The EU Centre is where the bulls are farmed for semen collection that is then processed for export.

Awahuri Hold is where LIC bulls are farmed whilst awaiting their daughter proofs.

The Feilding farm is in 2 different areas, the first is Feilding Hold which is for bulls awaiting their proofs. The second is a heifer grazing area where LIC dairy farm replacement stock are run.

“Technology has changed a lot since I started. We used to have to shovel the solids out of the collection barn sumps, onto concrete to drain, and then shovel again onto a trailer and move down to the stop bank to tip off. Today a truck with a vacuum pump comes along and sucks it out and then spreads it on the pasture. This takes about an hour, compared to a half a day 45 years ago,” says Lance.

“I’ve enjoyed working with a great band of people over the years with LIC, they’ve been a good company to work for. I enjoy talking to farmers about both their bulls and other LIC bulls, from the point of view of how they work in the collection barn and what turns them on, to get the best quality and volume of semen.

“It’s a job that demands patience and observation skills to watch for signs that the bull is performing as expected, and if not, how to get him going. There are not a lot of us out there doing what we do, and some people cringe when you tell them that you collect semen from bulls as a job. Some then comment… ‘and I just shook your hand’…

Lance reflects, “Hopefully what I’ve been doing over the years has helped the New Zealand dairy farmer increase their herd’s BW and brought another dollar through the gate.”

by Michelle Lamerton
International Marketing Coordinator
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