Over recent years, Animal Health Australia (AHA) has had the honour to work in collaboration with Johann Schröder, previous Program Manager of Health Welfare & Biosecurity at Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). With over 40+ years in the biosecurity and animal health space, Johann has played a prominent role in the strategic planning and management of Australian RD&E in animal wellbeing and biosecurity. Following his departure from MLA, Johann kindly shared his insight and experiences about working in the Australian agricultural system.
What did you love most about working in the red meat industry?
Having for many years worked for pharmaceutical companies, developing remedies which producers would use to manage the health of their livestock, there was now the opportunity to listen first to what producers needed, and then to seek the solutions through research investment. Discovering and developing something that producers had asked for and which they could put to use gave me a real buzz.
What has been your biggest career highlight?
I have quite a few! The people I have dealt with. The privilege of being exposed to and learning from so many talented and awe-inspiring people (scientists and producers). The chance of putting the right people in touch with each other, stepping back, and watching the synergy work. Realising that livestock producers face the same problems, no matter where they are (brought home to me when I had to explain the tick life cycle to an Italian cattle owner who spoke no English, with the help of a bilingual marketing colleague who knew nothing about parasites).
What challenges have you faced along the way?
Persuading producers to change their behaviour and to adopt new knowledge. Accepting that what might sound and look like a cracker of an idea on paper, would be dead in the water if it couldn’t be easily integrated into what was already a very full and busy daily husbandry routine. A good example is integrated parasite management, reducing reliance on chemicals by utilising a variety of decision support tools and husbandry interventions. It is complex, requiring additional record keeping and maybe infrastructure investment, and continues to be very difficult to implement.
What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the industry?
Labour. Whereas many cropping activities can now be automated, benefiting from amazing technological advances, successful livestock production (good animal wellbeing management) still requires much human input and interaction with stock. Bore runs, water trough inspections, live weight gain recording, etc. are all things which can be done with labour saving remote sensing technology, but good stockmanship cannot be replaced. Where I grew up, the saying goes: “the eye of the shepherd fattens the sheep”.
What advice would you give someone looking to enter the ag/red meat industry?
Don’t do it if you’re after a job where you’ll get rich quick, without getting your hands too dirty, with regular office hours and weekends free, and with minimal risk of injury. Give it a red-hot go if you find livestock fascinating, if you love working outdoors most of the time, if you appreciate sunrises and sunsets, if you have a sense of adventure, if you revel in the challenge of solving problems which you’ve never heard of before, relying on your wits and an on-the-job skill set – almost on a daily basis.
Johann Schröder, Uki 21.04.08