Rayner Reckons

Nov 29

Buying Livestock Online?

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching the rapid growth of livestock selling on line.  Now, on line selling is not actually a new concept.  In Australia we have had AuctionsPlus that is the largest online seller of livestock in the country.  AuctionsPlus was preceded by CALM – Computer Aided Livestock Marketing.

One of the great developments with the online livestock marketing has been the creation of objective terms to describe cattle and sheep.  The language we use to describe fatness and muscle score was a direct outcome from the move to sell livestock objectively, and more importantly digitally.

So to me, on line marketing of livestock is a standout for the agricultural industry.

I guess I’m not the only one to be excited by the opportunities that on line selling offers.  After all it’s a very inexpensive way to advertise.  You can advertise with pictures as well as written descriptions.  And now with the creation of Internet sites like Gum Tree, you can pretty much buy and sell anything!

At the same time, you only need to browse through Facebook to see any number of pages that range from “Buy, Sell or Swap” to specific pages selling livestock.  Now, I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  At the end of the day, it’s a way for people to sell livestock in a manner that works best for them.  It also means you might find an opportunity to purchase something you’ve been looking for.

But just because you are selling or buying through Facebook or Gum Tree, you still have to ensure you comply with the legislation that exists around livestock sales and movements. 

This means you need to ensure that you comply with the NLIS requirements.  So if you are buying animals, you will need to ensure that the animals are transferred on the NLIS database to your PIC.  If you are selling you have to make sure the animals are tagged with an approved NLIS tag and that you also must complete a current National Vendor Declaration (NVD).  Remember the NVD can be used as your Transported Stock Statement. 

These points are important to remember, particularly if you are a small or new producer.  However your animals are part of the industry, and so traceability is just as important regardless of buying on line from a Facebook page or through the sale yard system.  And in regards to transported stock statements, the legislation means police or stock inspectors have a duty to ask for yours.  So don’t get caught!

The other part of buying on line from various sites is for you to ensure you consider the risks to your business.  In the first instance you need to consider the usual issues of biosecurity. So think about quarantining new livestock to minimize the spread of weeds or parasites. 

I’d also think its pretty important you do your homework on just what it is that you are buying.  In the Auctions Plus system, you have the assurance that an accredited assessor describes all animals.  You can check their status, and if the animals don’t meet the description you can speak to Auctions Plus about the issue.  

In generic sales pages, you won’t have that fall back.  You really are making a choice to accept another person’s description.  So if the animal isn’t what you expect, is lighter, heavier, more stirry than you expected, you have no comeback.  That’s part of buyer beware and I guess it applies to any purchases we make.  But it’s important that you do the risk assessment first, cover all the options and then you can at least feel you’ve done as much as you can.

I reckon on line selling in all their forms, are going to be part of how we do business into the future.  So why not make the most of the opportunities.  Just don’t let the convenience of looking on line become complacency or laziness! If you do your homework and make sure you meet your obligations for identification, traceability and movement restrictions, then I reckon the online world can be another tool in your business toolbox.  

Sep 04

Time to update to the current LPA NVD

Posted on Friday, September 04, 2015

Earlier this week I was talking to a beef producer from the New England region about our markets.  With current prices it seems everyone wants to discuss the value and opportunities of beef production!  And lets face it, its exciting to see the demand and value flowing through for cattle.  One of the things we talked about was the point that domestically, Australia can only consume so much red meat in any one year.  The simple reality, which we both reckoned, is that sometimes, its easy to forget just how dependant we are on our overseas exports!

The Australian beef industry sends about 70% of all beef produced overseas, to over 100 countries.  For other red meat producers, such as shipmate its around 97% while lamb producers have about 54% exported.  For goat producers that figure is an extraordinary 95%!  So maintaining the confidence of those overseas consumers and purchasers of red meat is essential for all of us!

A key component in maintaining this confidence starts wit a vendor declaration.  The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the opportunity for you as a producer to stay some facts around your animals, and the way in which you have produced them.  It also covers the important things like veterinary treatments. feeds that may have been offered and if there are any issues associated with chemical residues.

The NVD is also required for any movements of stock between properties that have different Property Identification Codes (PIC) or through saleyards or to processors.

NVDs help provide a clearer understanding of livestock and support the traceability of animals.

Completing NVDs isn't really a new concept for most producers.  National Vendor Declarations have been around for a number of years.  The have been updated and revised as markets and consumer expectations change.  

What is changing is a requirement for all producers to now ensure that they are using the current version of the LPA NVD.  All older versions of the LPA NVD are being phased out over the next two months.  

And from the 16th of November 2015 all older versions will no longer be accepted by the industry.  Which means no processors, feedlot, saleyards or other producers will accept them!  Which is going to make marketing or moving cattle, sheep or goats pretty difficult for you if you don't get organised now!

So how can you tell if you have a current LPA NVD?  

If your LPA NVD has the number 0413, it is the current version and you will be fine to continue to use the form when moving or marketing livestock.  In the picture above, you will notice a C, which stands for Cattle.  The Sheep & Lamb NVD has an S before the 0413 code.

So what do you do if you don't have the current LPA NVD?  Well I reckon the first thing you need to do is check that you don't have it!  If you are definitely using older NVD forms, then you need to get in touch with Meat & Livestock Australia and order the current forms.   

If you want hard copies, which are the books you will fill out (they come in triplicate) you can order them online.  They cost $40.  The other option is to use an E-declaration (an electronic form).  Known as E-Decs, they can be a more cost effective way of ordering forms, particularly if you prefer doing work on line.  

Which ever way you choose to go is up to you.  I reckon its a matter personal preference on this one.  However, I also reckon you don't have time to do nothing.  If you are planning on selling or moving stock after the 16th of November you need to have the LPA NVD up to date.  So don't leave it until the last minute before you sort yourself out!  

According to industry figures, around 70% of producers already using the current LPA NVD forms.  This is largely helped by processors such as JB Swift and Teys Australia only accepting current forms.  But it still leaves 30% or 3 in 10 producers who haven't updated.  And that might be due to marketing only once a year or not moving stock between PICs and you haven't had to update until now.

If that is the case, or you're a small producer or hobby farmer, and you haven't worried until now, you need to make a coupe of calls and decide if hard copies or E-Decs work best for you. As soon as you decide that, get onto MLA and order the current LPA NVD.

I reckon the sooner you can do that, the less stress you'll have and most importantly you are doing your part to protect the confidence consumers have in your product.  

Don't forget, if you have any questions or you's like to discuss your options to get in touch with me!

Jun 11

Do your capabilities match your ambitions?

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2015

In the last few weeks I have had four conversations with producers who are incredibly enthusiastic about a new plan.  The plans were all different of course, but the enthusiasm was very similar.  I love enthusiasm, and I am incredibly passionate about aiming for a goal.  But!  There are times when I do wonder, if the plan is realistic!

No doubt you have seen business coaches, life, coaches and other people sharing inspirational advice.  Its not uncommon to see them as a motivational quote.  You know the sort of thing, "Dream big" or "The only thing holding you back is yourself". There's nothing wrong with these motivations.  It is vital to aim at goals and work towards them.  

Having said that, dreams don't just happen! In a business, your ambitions are realised through hard work, through focussing on achieving targets, and on ensuring your capabilities meet your ambitions!

One of the discussions I had last week focussed on producing cattle to meet a certain market specification.  The specification was pretty tight for weight and fat.  Underpinning that requirement was the need for the cattle to be certified as PCAS.  The top price on offer was almost $1.00/kg carcase weight above the normal rate.  It was a really attractive option, and if you could produce cattle that met the certification requirements and more importantly hit the specification, the return was going to be significant.

However, there were a few issues.  the most easily resolved was gaining PCAS certification.  It required some paperwork and a bit of homework, but the effort involved was more than offset by the potential market opportunities.

The bigger issue was simply to do with the cattle that the producer owned, and the feeding regime the cattle were on. 

Quite simply the cattle were never going to hit the specification for weight and fat.  Most of them would have been too lean at the weight, and the grid discount for under finished cattle was pretty big.

At the same time the cattle were grazing a feed that was declining in quality, and were not gaining the weight needed to finish in time.  They really needed a supplement to get the best use from the feed, but the options for the producer are limited by the PCAS requirements and the availability of supplements.  

So there were a few things going wrong.  The cattle, the feed and the restrictions of the program meant that the ambition to produce to that market wasn't going to happen easily.  

The discussion I had with the producer was really interesting.  The conversation started with the disappointment that was felt by the producer over the whole process.  They felt they had wasted their time and there was some blame being levelled for that. Blame on themselves for wasting time and more interestingly, for listening to the wrong advice.  The comment was "I should have never listened to them.."  and "they said that.."

I'm not sure who these mysterious advisors are.  I have a sneaking suspicion that advice was given by a range of people, from neighbours, agents, articles in the paper and perhaps a drinking mate in the local pub!  

I have learnt that people listen with half an ear to things, often hearing what they want to hear.  If it is a way to get more money, or in this care to chase a more lucrative market, the listening is often filtered through this filter of "getting more money".

The other conversation that stood out this week was with a producers wanting to complain about a market price at auction for steers sent to a show.  The issue was a poor return and that it wasn't fair to see a low price for these animals after all the hard work that had been done to prepare them.  It was an interesting conversation!  Again, the issue was a bit more complex.  The steers in question were under weight, had little fat cover and weren't really ready for the market.  However the exhibitor had been told, that by preparing them and taking them to the show, the returns at the sale "shouldn't be too bad.."

That advice had come from someone who hadn't actually seen the exhibitors steers, didn't know the weight of the steers or even what they were going to be shown for.  Yet the exhibitor accepted their advice and as result had a disappointing experience as a result!  Again there was a lot of self blame for listening to bad advice and for asking the wrong people for input.

So what do you make of those experiences.  I guess there are a few things.  Firstly, if you are embarking on a new plan or working for an ambition you hold dearly, you need to be realistic about your capabilities.  Can you really achieve that outcome with the resources you currently have to hand?  Do your cattle really suit that market?  Are your pastures really up to that level of production?  Does that certification restrict you too much?

A more deeper question is what are you trying to achieve?  If you want to make more returns and better profits, is there another way, that uses your resources efficiently and effectively?  Can your ambitions and capabilities be more aligned in a different way?

I also have to ask, who are you getting advice from?  If you are getting advice from someone who doesn't know what they are talking about, then really, what do you expect?

Just owning cows isn't always a qualification!  Can your advisor explain the challenges and opportunities for your business. Have they looked at your animals and pastures?  Do they really understand your system?  Do they actually understand the market, or is it just pub talk?  So many people talk a lot of rubbish that they have half heard or over heard in the pub / cafe / saleyards.  

I reckon most people wouldn't make business decisions on gossip.  Equally I don't think you would ask for computer repair advice from a plumber!  So if you are looking for advice to help you match up your capabilities and your ambitions look for someone who actually can come and give you what you need.

Don't be afraid to invest in the right advice.  Part of the disappointment in the conversations I had this week was a level of regret for lost income, lost opportunity, and more importantly for lost time and resources.  Investing in the right advice at the right time would have made a big difference for both of these producers.  I reckon free advice isn't always good advice.  And when you lose money, you will always be further from your ambitions!


Dec 01

I love a successful outcome!

Posted on Monday, December 01, 2014

In a number of these blogs for Rayner Reckons, I've written about the importance of working to achieve outcomes.   I have a deeply held belief that every business should know what goals they are working towards.  Those goals or outcomes don't have to mean that your business is to move into the top ten beef producers in the country, or to own more cattle in the region than anyone else.  

Your goals could be as personal as making sure you and your family can have a holiday away from the farm every year.  Or it could be a decision to structure your operations to respond to seasonal changes without significantly altering your enterprise.   

Whatever your outcomes are, its important to work towards those by structuring your daily, weekly, and monthly activities around the best tactics to help you achieve your outcomes on time and as efficiently as you can.

One of the key outcomes for RaynerAg is to help my clients find ways to more efficiently meet their goals.  

This year I've been working to help the team at Classimate services offer producers who want to market their livestock on line a credible, independent assessment of the structure, temperament, fertility & muscling of their cattle. 

This system would complement other data breeders want to provide their clients, such as EBVs or pedigrees on their animals.  I've written in previous Rayner Reckons about the way we have developed this concept.

For me there are some outcomes I wanted to achieve.  The first was to develop a system that ticked the boxes for industry credibility, repeatability, relevance and most importantly usefulness to producers, both from a selling and from a buying position.  

To achieve this goal I worked closely with a team of people who I respect for their industry knowledge and experience.  Together we developed a cattle assessment system that ticks those boxes.

The next goal was to actually undertake assessments for a producer who wanted to market their cattle on line.  As a new concept I wondered how producers would respond to the new opportunity.

It turns out there has been plenty of interest from producers in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The first cattle to be assessed for the system are based in Gin Gin, Queensland.  

I was really pleased to have over 100 cows come through the yards to be assessed under the system I had developed with my colleagues. I reckon that in itself was a successful outcome to the project I'd been working on.

I reckon the next goal is to use the assessment data in two ways.  The first will be to provide the owners with the ability to market their cattle with the independent assessment scores we allocate each animal.  And secondly I want to provide the owner with a benchmark of their animals structure, the trends and observations I've seen, as well as some suggestions on how to manage those trends.  

That way I reckon there is real value in having your cattle assessed.  One, you can market them to a wider audience, and two, you can have something objective to work towards in your herd improvement process.

I'm really pleased this project is achieving the outcomes I wanted, its also reminded me of a few lessons that can be applied to any project you're working on to achieve your goals.

1. Break your goal down into a series of smaller goals so that you can manage them more easily

2. Look to your networks and seek the skills to help you get to your goal

3. Be prepared to invest in those skills or people.  It might mean paying for advice or assistance, but that is investment that pays a bigger return when you achieve your goals.

4.  Think about the other positive outcomes your achievements might bring.  It could be new options to manage your business, to market your livestock or in my case provide additional tailored support to producers.

I really love the outcomes from this project.  For me, I've been able to see some great cattle, meet some fantastic new producers, work more closely with a great group of colleagues as well as implementing a great cattle assessment program.  Its been a great few months, and I'm looking forward to setting some new goals to work towards.

Oct 20

A System to Provide Independent Cattle Assessments

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014

Earlier this year I was undertaking some work in Brisbane.  While I was in town I was contacted by Angus Burnett-Smith who wanted to talk to me about cattle assessment work.  I have to admit I was pleased to be contacted, largely because it seemed like a good chance to meet someone new, and hopefully it might bring some more work towards RaynerAg!

Well I was right on both of those assumptions!  Angus is the brains and energy behind an online livestock marketing system.  In simplest terms the ClassiMate model combines independent assessment of breeding livestock with an online marketing platform for those animals.

The model has proven to be very successful with small ruminant animals, and Angus was keen to discuss with me the opportunity to extend the platform to beef cattle.

It certainly was an exciting proposition.  

There are plenty of methods used in the beef industry to describe cattle. The challenge was to draw on those to develop a system that would allow breeders to be able to list their cattle on line, and for potential buyers to view those cattle with complete confidence in the way those animals had been assessed.

I reckon it was a challenge I had to accept, and I went away and worked with several industry people who have a level of experience and industry knowledge I respect.  Between us we looked at the current industry methods, and considered what traits are most important to assess in breeding animals. 

With a lot of research, discussion and testing, I was able to report back to Angus and the ClassiMate team we had developed a system we are confident in to assess with credibility and repeatability, breeding cattle of both sexes.  

The ClassiMate assessment system assesses structural soundness; temperament; fertility and muscle.  These are the traits that are important in any breeding enterprise, and using these as the basis for selection will certainly drive the performance of any beef business.  

Now that the system has been established the role of RaynerAg will be to provide ClassiMate members with the assessment service so that they can list their animals on the website. 

RaynerAg will not be working for ClassiMate.  I'll provide an independent service (along with the other team members) that is arranged on demand as people require it.

So what happens now?  Well firstly I reckon its important to remember that assessing your animals on their physical merits won't replace the value of EBVs which describe the genetic potential of an animal.  So if you are in BreedPlan I'd encourage you to continue to monitor and record the traits required to contribute to your EBVs.  

However having the opportunity to have your animals independently assessed for their structural soundness, temperament; fertility and muscle can be incredibly beneficial.  

Assessments such as these will allow you to select out animals that are not suited to your environment; to your market specifications or are just not right for your program.  

If you are trying to market your livestock and one option is to advertise your livestock online, providing potential buyers with an independent assessment of your animals can add to your credibility. 

I reckon there will be opportunities for breeders who are looking to try and combine traditional marketing techniques with online marketing.  There would be no reason why bulls in a sale catalogue or females in a feature sale couldn't be accompanied with both their individual EBVs and a ClassiMate score.  That way you address genetic potential and the animal's physical traits at the same time.

I'm pleased I was able to work with a great team to develop this system. Naturally I hope ClassiMate see's new members that are looking to have their cattle assessed!  But I also have to be honest and say I'm pleased that a team of people I respect came together to put some ideas together to have a system in place that will aid beef producers across Australia improve their herds and hopefully move much closer to their owners goals.  

If you are interested in joining ClassiMate you can get in touch with them yourself.  As an independent assessor, my connection with ClassiMate is now purely to be on their list of cattle assessors and to ensure the system used to assess cattle into the future maintains industry relevance and credibility.  I reckon it will work and I think there will be plenty of producers who will gain a lot from both the assessments and the new marketing opportunities. 

Jun 26

Top Tips for Junior Judges

Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2014

Junior judging competitions are one of the most important activities for agriculture.  These competitions are often the entry point for many people into their chosen agricultural industry.  It doesn't matter if that industry is cattle, sheep, poultry or alpaca!  For me, junior judging was the start of my career in agriculture and so its one form of competition I'm always very eager to support.

I reckon its important to recognise junior judging competitions offer more than simply a format to demonstrate your ability to judge and place animals or entries.  

These competitions are a fantastic way to refine your ability to make decisions, to demonstrate your capacity to present arguments or a reason behind a decision and give you a great way to improve your confidence as a public speaker.  These are all skills that are highly valuable in your career, even if you don't go on to do a lot of judging in the future.

When I do have the opportunity to judge the junior judging competitions, I try to spend some time providing competitors with some ideas and suggestions to bear in mind in future competitions.  

Over the next few months there are a huge number of junior judging competitions coming up, and I thought it might be a good time to share a few tips with potential junior judges.

Tip 1:  Practice speaking into a microphone at home!  Holding a microphone seems to distract many people.  Combined with the nervousness that is already associated with public speaking this seems to really derail some peoples presentations.  So practice speaking into a microphone, holding it close to your mouth and get comfortable with the concept of holding and moving while speaking.

Tip 2: Learn to describe the exhibit. As a judge you are being assessed on your ability to describe the exhibit, and the traits you think are important.  Don't make stuff up!  Don't use jargon, particularly if you don't really understand it.  Its much more professional to speak and describe an exhibit with correct terms.

Tip 3: Make a proper comparison.  Judging is not simply placing exhibits in a ranking order.  Judges need to be able to describe what they are looking for and why their choices are placed in the ranking the judge has chosen.  Part of that is to compare exhibits.  You must be able to say why 1st place is the best.  And you have to say why the 2nd place is there.  

Don't skip over the comparison between the entries. I reckon the worst form of comparison is to describe an entry as being "overpowered on the day!"  Ask yourself, what does that mean?  If the entry was underweight, less well grown, less muscled, poorly structured, what ever the reason for it being more lowly raked, it should be said, and not hidden in this meaningless phrase!

Tip 4: Dress Appropriately! Judging is an honour.  Its not everyday that you will be asked to make a comment on peoples hard work in breeding, preparing and exhibiting.  

To respect the effort exhibitors put in, you need to present yourself as a professional.  Your appearance indicates you care, and it illustrates you want to convey opinions which are considered and helpful.  

Dressing correctly conveys your intention to be taken seriously and respectfully.  Its hard to take seriously the opinions of someone who can't be bothered to wear clean clothes, or even to wear their clothes neatly.  If they don't care about their appearance, do they care about their opinions and comments?

So make sure you wear good clean pants (not jeans); a clean ironed shirt and for men a tie.  You should wear a clean jacket. If you're at school there's nothing wrong with the school blazer.  If you are wearing a hat, which is mainly for cattle and horse judging, it should be a wide brim and clean hat!  The black yard hat covered in mud and dung looks terrible!

Tip 5: Make your decisions & use your time to get reasons 

As a member of the Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging Team we spent several weeks training before the US competitions.  One of the lessons I was taught was to make your decision swiftly.  

Generally as a judge you know pretty quickly which order you will place a class.  So make that preliminary decision and spend your time on why - that is what are the reasons behind that placing order.

If you do this it may help you be certain you've got the order correct.  It will also help you be much more confident in your preparation to answer questions or to present your reasons to the judge of the competition.  

Tip 6: Enjoy yourself! Junior judging is a great opportunity.  Don't put yourself under so much pressure that it becomes a chore or something you don't enjoy.

Judging is a skill.  Like any skill it has to be developed.  The more you practice the more confident you will be.  look for the opportunities, listen to the feedback, think about the things you would like to do better and practice those things.

The Final Tip: Look for opportunities!

If you want to develop as a judge, or you'd like to be more involved in judging in your industry, junior judging competitions can only take you so far.  If you are keen, get involved in your local show society and get to know how shows operate.  

Make contacts with the judges in your industry.  Perhaps there are opportunities to be an associate judge where you can learn and refine your skills.  Don't overlook the opportunities to learn new skills, particularly by attending industry youth activities.  Its always a work in progress, but all judges started somewhere and if you keep at it, you will find your place in the industry of your choice.

Jun 05

Nice to know, or need to know?

Posted on Thursday, June 05, 2014

This morning I was listening to a radio interview on the opportunities for careers in agriculture.  The person being interviewed talked about the wide varieties of roles there were in agriculture and in particular the roles for people to give farmers new information from the research and science being done in agriculture.   

I've been thinking about that interview for a few hours now!  I admit I was troubled by some of the points this person made in the interview.  I agree there are exciting and amazing opportunities in agriculture to build a rewarding and fulfilling career and life. 

I'm struggling with the assumptions made by this person that helping farmers is just about giving them information or the results of scientific studies.  This person was obviously talking about the role for people to build a career in agricultural extension.  To simply describe extension as taking research and giving it to farmers is pretty outdated and doesn't reflect what agricultural extension should be.  I also think its pretty insulting to farmers. 

Over 50 years ago, extension used to be described in this way.  Farmers were seen to be devoid of knowledge of best production practices and desperate for new research.  The extension process was seen as a way of filling farmers full of new knowledge and better practices.  

This then lead to people describing farmers as being innovative, or early adopters, or laggards when they didn't take on the new ideas.

The worst thing about these labels, I reckon, is the unfairness of them.  In their lives people make decisions about how to go about things, based on a range of reasons.  These include the information or knowledge you have.  But it is also the practical application of knowledge, the time it takes to do something, how much it might cost or what has to be given up to do something new.  

Its no different for someone deciding on a new TV or a new way to do business.  These motivations underpin why people do what they do and when they do it.

In agricultural extension terms, there are two things we can do.  We can make people aware of new information.  Or we can work with producers and others to put new information into practice.  

I get worried by people who think all that needs to be done is to tell farmers about new information and thats all that they need to do.  I call that the nice to know approach!  Field days, seminars and newsletters are handy ways to share the nice to know things.  

There's a huge difference between nice to know and need to know!

The stuff that is need to know are the practical things to make information work properly, safely and efficiently!

Things like:  

  • How do I feed this product - not just how much?
  • Will this feed effect my market strategy?
  • What do I put on the Vendor Declaration?
  • Can I do it this way instead because I don't want to buy new equipment..

The list of need to know questions can be quite long with new research, or it can be really straightforward.  The thing is, the need to know part of extension is pretty important.  It takes trust in the person helping you.  It also means trusting the farmer you are working with to share their thoughts and actions, so you know you are getting it right!  

You have to understand the practicalities of someones business and the realities of the industry which can be very different to an academic or theoretical understanding.

So what does this mean really?  I guess it means that if you want to build a career in agriculture based on sharing knowledge and information, you will have to be able to do more than just run a field day and promote the nice to know information.  It takes time to build knowledge and experience so you can work to share the need to know with farmers and industry.  

For farmers, I think the bigger challenge will be finding people you can trust to work with you on the need to know subjects. I'm continuing to work with many producers on these subjects.  Each time we do a job, I know a little bit more of the need to know things, which in turn grows to help everyone I work with in the future.

I think listening to that interview today reenforced my desire to be the person farmers turn to when they are looking for someone to help make changes in their businesses.  I want to keep being the "need to know" advisor.  As long as I keep doing that, I reckon the people paying me to work in their businesses will continue to get the service they want and need, and I can keep my rewarding and fulfilling career in agriculture.

Mar 28

What can you learn from the show ring?

Posted on Friday, March 28, 2014

How do you benchmark your livestock against other people?  Seedstock producers are fortunate to have Breedplan which provides breeders with a way of measuring and comparing the genetic potential of their animals through EBVs.  Without doubt EBVs provide a chance to assess genetic potential for the commercial traits essential to improving a beef enterprise.

So where does the show ring fit in todays commercial world?  As someone who has been involved in agricultural shows for over 25 years as an exhibitor, steward, judge and organiser, I think about this question a lot!

I reckon the show ring still provides plenty of learning for producers, either in showing their cattle or just from watching the events.  

Observing animals closely, as they walk around a ring, and as they stand still for judging, lets you get up close and personal to observe the physical characteristics which the animal has.  Questions like the shape and angle of feet and legs, the size of testicles, the placement of teats on the udder.  These physical features are as important as the genetic potential of the animal.  

Comparing animals of the same age and breed against each other gives you a chance to see how the animal has expressed their genetic potential when they receive the nutrition they require.  

Being able to compare your animals in an environment where you will be exposed to an outside opinion does challenge you!  But any challenge is also an opportunity.  It is a chance to see what your breed is doing, and to see if there is much variation in the breed type, as well as what your animals look like at the same age and weight as animals of other breeds.  

Its important not to underestimate the importance of networking with other breeders, and producers at a show.  The show ring remains an important publicity tool for your program and for the type of cattle you are seeking to breed.  Many producers are looking to make contact with breeders and to see how animals compare against each other.  Its part of the information gathering process many people undertake when they are looking for new genetics.

I find producers enjoy supporting their bull breeders at local, regional and state shows.  There is a degree of pride in seeing the breeder who supplies you with genetics, being prepared to display their animals and compete for recognition in a public arena.  

To me it, by exhibiting your livestock you are saying you are proud of your animals and are prepared to showcase them publicly which we all know can be challenging as you are exposed to public praise and public critique.

Generally most people will remember seeing you in the ring and remember the chats they have with you in the cattle sheds more than they will remember where you placed in the class.  This recognition and awareness can underpin your sale in coming months.

Judges at shows should be able to offer you an independent observation on your animals compared to their peers in a class.  True it is a subjective opinion.  But don't forget, people who haven't seen your animals before may notice something which you haven't really noticed, or because you see it so often, you take it for granted.  Most judges will be happy to chat after the event, so take the time to meet the judge and discuss their comments.  Its often the outside view that can help you piece together an idea which really benefits you in the long run.  

For me, the show, be it the local show or the Royal, is a chance to spend some time with people who are enthusiastic about breeding cattle and who have a vision for their business.  I look forward to being around passionate and enthusiastic people and I draw a lot of energy from them.

The show ring does give you a chance to showcase your animals, to benchmark their performance, and most importantly, it lets you mix with people who will share ideas and passions which you can use to boost yourself towards new goals.

Mar 20

Celebrating the 1st Year of RaynerAg

Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2014

In the last few weeks, I've been really busy on a number of RaynerAg tasks.  I have had a chance to visit a number of producers on farm to discuss feeding programs to best manage the drought; delivered at several drought workshops; pregnancy tested over 1,040 cows and even delivered some social media training as part of seniors week!

With all thats has been happening, its exciting to also realise that RaynerAg has now been operating for 12 months.  I reckon I am incredibly fortunate.  I have been so supported by producers who have been prepared to pay me to provide them with ideas, advice and opinions which can have a significant impact on their businesses.  I've also been supported by many organisations ranging from Government Departments through to Agri-buisnesses who have asked me to develop and deliver staff training and development.  

When I left the NSW DPI after a 17 year career as a District Livestock Officer (Beef Products) there was no way I could have guessed what the year ahead would bring me.  I knew I wanted to build a business which would allow me to do what I am passionate about, which is to help other people operate their agricultural businesses more effectively and more profitably.

Establishing a new business providing advice and training has been a challenge. Paying for advice to aid livestock production is a new concept in the NSW beef industry.  However I have found many producers are willing to pay for advice and ideas which can be tailored and focussed to their specific needs.  

I have been fortunate in developing strong relationships with clients from across NSW, Queensland and South Australia.  The people I am working with are enthusiastic about their businesses and determined to achieve the goals they are setting for themselves and for their businesses.

Looking back I didn't expect I would have included overseas work in my first year.  Last year I was able to travel to Malaysia to work with MLA with the developing goat market and to assist in training farmers in livestock handling under the ESCAS program.  

The chance to work in another country was incredibly valuable in helping me appreciate our traceability systems as well as the seeing our markets from the international clients view.  I reckon I am better placed to discuss the impact on markets or why traceability systems are so vital having seen whats happening in the market place.

The past year has also been a great year for learning new skills.  I've enjoyed writing a weekly blog for the web site.  I wasn't too sure about writing a blog when I first started, but I do enjoy sharing my observations and I appreciate the regular feedback many people send me on things I've written.  

Learning to become a pregnancy tester was a new skill. Undertaking the course and learning the skill to be an accurate tester was something I wanted to do, so I could offer a better level of advice and service for producers.  Now with over 1,000 cows tested and more booked in, I'm better positioned to help the producers I work with, manage issues such as fertility and stocking rate during this drought.

I reckon the second year for RaynerAg is going to be just as exciting and rewarding.  I am talking with producers in Tasmania and South Australia about delivering workshops on better bull buying and live animal assessment.  I'm also developing a one day course for people wishing to improve their skills to undertake the role of stewards at their local agricultural show.

I'm looking forward to working with a number of bull breeders in NSW and Queensland to assess the structure of their bulls and to use that information to provide their clients with enhanced information on each bull.

While these are exciting plans, I'm just as excited about the continuing work I am doing with individual producers.  I really do enjoy being on a farm discussing the best way to achieve outcomes and to see the results as plans come together.

I do reckon I'm incredibly fortunate.  I love my job and I enjoy working with so many people passionate about their industry and about agriculture.  I am looking forward to continuing to provide a professional, independent and technically based advisory service to agriculture.  Thank you for your support over the past 12 months, and I hope I can offer you the service you and your business are looking for into the future.

Feb 27

A new direction for agricultural extension

Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2014

Over the past two weeks I've had a chance to undertake several farm visits to discuss feeding, cow selection, early weaning calves as well as preg testing a number of breeding groups.  I've also been able to work with Landcare to present drought management advice at workshops which all up attracted around 200 people. Its been busy and very rewarding.

In the time I've spent travelling to and from these events, I've been thinking about the way extension services are changing, particularly in Australian agriculture.  My background in in extension, which inspired me to undertake a Masters of Philosophy to research how extension methods impact on the decisions by farmers to adopt new technologies.

I reckon a lot of people don't really understand extension.  It surprised me a lot when doing my research and when working for NSW DPI, just how varied peoples understanding of extension was!

In broad terms extension is the term used to describe the way which agricultural science is shared, used, and refined by both farmers and scientists.  Extension can describe the basic one to one sharing of ideas between farmers and scientists, through to field days demonstrating a technology or an outcome, or to the process of working with a group of people to test and adapt ideas to suit the real world.

I reckon what many people overlook is extension is not just about knowing about science or agricultural technologies. 

And its not just about the ability to bring farmers together to join a discussion group or to arrange and hold a field day. 

The people who work in agricultural extension are able to blend a range of skills together.  They have to be practical people who understand and can empathise with both scientists and researchers as well as the farmers who actually use technologies every day.  They need to be able to listen and learn from others and be willing to share advice.  I reckon they need to be able to work in a range of ways to best share ideas and information.

In the past agricultural extension has been seen to be a service or a role which is freely available to farmers.  I don't know that that is really a practical option for agriculture in todays environment.  

Having worked as a government extension officer for 17 years and as an independent provider of extension serves for a year, I reckon the change to extension as a paid service will become much more accepted and utilised in Australian agriculture. 

I reckon this is the case for a few reasons.  Firstly todays farmers and graziers are working to achieve much more specific outcomes for their enterprises. Sourcing reelable farm labour is more challenging, which means farmers are more discerning about how they invest their time in obtaining new information and advice.

I also reckon farmers want to find the advice, support or input they want to address their specific needs. In recent years as a government extension officer, it was much harder to provide a tailored level of advice for individual farmers, which was as frustrating for me as it was for farmers looking for that support.

So what does that really mean for agriculture in Australia?  Well I reckon it doesn't mean the end of activities like field days or discussion groups or any of the other activities which we have used to share ideas and develop new and exciting directions for our industries.

What I do reckon will happen is we will become more used to looking for and paying for a service which provides the tailored or specific information sharing needed for todays agricultural businesses.

It may be  more producers joining research and extension groups which co-share in research and extension with support funding from industry R & D bodies.  It probably also means producers will be more comfortable using provide providers of knowledge and advice.  As someone building a business in this area, I have to say I hope so!  

However it develops,  I reckon as an agricultural sector we have to acknowledge that good extension doesn't just happen and shouldn't be expected to be freely provided.  A small investment by individuals to obtain specialised information, advice and support can often return significant results in the way a business operates. 

I reckon valuing extension is the new direction and I'm pretty confident the people who see the value and invest in those skills will be the ones who will achieve the greatest returns.


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