can you tell us a little background about yourself?
I was born in Lanark, a well-known dairy area and have always had a keen interest in livestock which began from working on my grandfather’s farm.
Following this at the age of 19 I went on to work on an upland hill farm in Perthshire caring for a 200-head Charolais cross suckler herd. A couple of years later the opportunity arose to join the Scottish Milk Marketing Board AI centre as a Stockman and I worked there with some of the best beef bulls in the country.
When the chance came up to move to Chester to work for Cogent in 1998, I took the opportunity for a fresh challenge. I began as a head Stockman and around 8 years ago progressed into a Livestock Manager role.
what are your roles and RESPONSIBILITIES as a stud manager?
I am responsible for overseeing the team who care for all bulls in the stud, managing the collection of product and working alongside the lab and sales team to meet demand.
Amongst the stud team we split the care of the bulls between teams in order to meet our strict bio-security regulations between populations of animals such as bulls fresh off farm, bulls from third party studs and bulls returning from lay-off.
why did you want to get into the ai industry?
I have always had a real passion for handling bulls. I remember a relation of ours from Fife had pedigree beef Shorthorns and from an early age I used to parade them around the Highland Showground.
Between that and my grandfathers farm, I’ve always had a passion for handling bulls and it’s just moved on from there. I’ve just got a gift, and I know how they work and what makes them tick. It’s the detail that makes the difference.
how many bulls do you collect from in total in the stud?
180 bulls are currently collected in the stud.
what do you think makes a good stud?
A healthy, vibrant group of stockman and lab team working as one to produce a top-quality product. The bulls must be on top form all of the time and they can’t afford to have an off day. We want the bulls to feel as comfortable as possible and as though they’re in their natural environment.
CAN YOU TEll me about the team?
It is important to have trust in your team members and a good atmosphere is crucial. Dedication to the role is important and I want to ensure that everybody goes home safely at night. A mixture of different characters within the role is also essential, it makes it interesting and keeps things bubbling over.
do you have any favourite bulls?
Whichever we have at the time that produces well. We are all about quality but also target driven. The more semen we can get out of the bulls, the easier it is to survive in the world of AI today.
in your lifetime - how many bulls have you collected from?
It will be approaching my 22nd year working for Cogent. Over the years I have collected over 2,500 bulls.
are there any breeds you find difficult to collect from? if so, why?
Jersey’s can be awkward to collect when they are a bit older. Holsteins seem to have good temperaments. Anything shy is more difficult to handle and collect. Beef bulls are my passion and I really enjoy working in the beef shed.
any funny experiences?
A couple of years ago we had a bull letting off some steam in the sandpit and he got his head stuck through the hole of the tyre and we were worried how we were going to get it off!
when you're not busy in the stud, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Outside of working in the stud, I enjoy tug of war. I used to be part of a team in Scotland but with family and work commitments I had to give it up about 15 years ago. I restarted about 5 years ago and have since gone on to win Nationals with Bosley Tug of War Team.
what do you find the most rewarding about your job?
Seeing the bulls come through from a young age into our quarantine unit, right through to working in the stud. I also enjoy seeing the bulls at their best when we photograph them for catalogues.
Getting young bulls working and taking their first collection is always a satisfying feeling. I couldn’t imagine working in any other industry, it’s a very rewarding role.
what would you advice be to those looking to become a stockman?
Endless patience! I always try to be open minded when it comes to collecting the bulls as different things will work for different bulls, but our ultimate goal is to get the best out of every bull we house.
I try to be adaptable to change as this is inevitable when working with livestock. When I can I try to pass on knowledge to other members of the team and learn from others in the industry as much as possible.
If you want to work with the best livestock in the UK and you have a dedication to detail then this would be the perfect role for you. You couldn’t work anywhere better than in an AI stud. You’re working with the best genetics in the industry of whatever breed of animal you’re collecting on that particular day.
what does a typical day entail?
We start at 6am for a brief meeting with the stockmen to divide up jobs and plan the day ahead. The first jobs are to feed the bulls, flick the beds and scrape the passageways.
We always work in a certain order to adhere to bio security rules. The first collection will be taken around 7:00am for the sexing labs, followed by a collection at 2pm and then again at 8pm which runs 24/7. We then take conventional collections from up to 30 bulls a day. Routine jobs with the bulls such as health testing, clipping and foot paring are done in the afternoon and preparation is made for the next day’s collections. All collection areas are thoroughly disinfected each day. Another collection will be made around 8.00pm for the sexing lab.
what has been your biggest succesS?
Being part of sexed semen from day one. Cogent were the first company in the world to go commercial with sexed semen and being part of the bull stud when that was happening was very exciting!
I have overseen the business from one shed of about 30 bulls, to a stud of now over 200 bulls. It has been very rewarding to see the business grow over the years.
For more on the current vacancies we have available in the Cogent stud visit https://www.cogentuk.com/careers/livestock-person