Johan Fourie always gets a kick telling people he works in the “sex industry”, particularly unsuspecting townies. His official role is the production farm manager for CRV Ambreed at Bellevue Farm in the Waikato.
The 26-year-old South African is responsible for the semen harvesting, animal health care and well-being and general semen production of CRV’s bulls.
There are around 160-180 bulls on the farm at any one time, with a maximum capacity of 250. The farm is set up in different parts; the internal barns and paddocks make up the EU Facility and the outer parts of the farm are the isolation and pre-quarantine areas.
The EU Facility meets the European export regulations, which are considered the highest requirements for export. Any semen harvested at CRV can qualify for export but is predominantly used for the New Zealand market.
“At CRV we believe it is important we offer those same high health standards for the domestic market that we do for our export markets,” Fourie explains.
There are five full-time staff including Fourie and one part-timer who look after the bulls. The laboratory and distribution centre are also based on-site.
In a typical day the team starts at 7:30am bringing the rostered bulls into the collection facility. There can be between 15 and 35 bulls being collected each day and it takes an average of 10 minutes to collect. The semen goes straight to the lab for processing.
A single collect can produce anywhere from 600 to 1000 straws on average.
Demand dictates a bulls roster and most will come in twice a week to meet their production targets. Bulls not in high demand will come in about once a week.
The bulls in the EU Facility are then fed and any required health tests are carried out. General farm maintenance is performed before moving onto the lower health status sections of the farm. Essentially working inside out to follow quarantine and isolation protocols.
Feeding, moving break fences and general farm work is carried out in the isolation area and the day finishes in the pre-quarantine paddocks.
Once selected, a progeny test bull usually has his initial tests done on the farm where he was born and once confirmed healthy he will move to the Bellevue Farm at about six months old.
“When they come to Bellevue they start in the pre-quarantine section and have appropriate testing carried out before entering isolation,” Fourie says. “Once a bull is in isolation he will never come into contact with any animal that hasn’t been through CRV health testing programmes.”
A lot of his role as manager is to ensure protocols are followed and animals are always deemed healthy.
While in isolation the young bulls have quarantine testing carried out and are held until they pass. They are then approved by the Centre Vet and Recognised Agency and move into the EU Facility.
“We want to get the young bulls into the barns as soon as possible to ensure we can feed them properly to help them grow and reach sexual maturity.”
Once matured, collection begins. Most progeny test bulls have a 950-straw target which are then used in the sire-proving scheme to gain reliable proofs.
After meeting their targets, the young bulls leave the EU Facility and go back into isolation then are moved out to the Peninsula Farm at Raglan.
“Our Peninsula Farm is an ideal location for quarantine, three sides of the farm is surrounded by water and the fourth has a main road,” Fourie says. ” There is very little chance of any contact with other animals. This ensures our bulls remain in isolation.”
The team at Bellevue don’t see the young bulls again for three years. Once their daughters have been through appropriate testing, the results feed back to the bull and he is ranked. If selected he returns to the Bellevue Farm to be marketed and enter the collection roster.
“How long a bull remains on the farm depends on what he can produce and what people want to buy. On average a bull collects for two to three years, we do have one bull who has been around for 10 years, he’s always been popular.”
He explains how the bulls appreciate routine which they try to maintain as much as possible. Working in such close proximity to a large animal poses many risks but Fourie and the team take health and safety seriously. If any bulls present major issues they are removed from the farm.
“With our processes there is rarely any problems with the bulls. There has only been two removed in the past five years and with around 130 bulls entering the system each year I think that demonstrates a safe environment.
“It takes someone who is dependable and able to think on their feet to work so closely with bulls, they need exceptional stockmanship skills and an understanding of animal health is the No 1 priority. Our team needs extreme patience and must take biosecurity very seriously.”
Starting part-time while he was studying at Waikato University, Fourie has been with CRV since June 2011. He began as a farm technician and loved dealing with the stock and enjoyed the CRV Ambreed environment.
After exams in 2011, Fourie was offered and took a full-time role. He became 2IC in 2013 with manager Dave Smith as his mentor and was involved in the development of the purpose-built facility at Bellevue Farm.
Eventually an opportunity arose for Fourie to step in to manage the farm permanently. He has continued his studies but has changed focus from business management to agri-commerce extramurally through Massey.
“I am really enjoying this position,” he says. “I want to continue developing my management skills with CRV and aim to always be involved in production management. I enjoy refining processes and seeing development opportunities.”