‘Great people’ job benefit of scanning

Pregnancy scanner Blair Stewart enjoys the people and getting into the back blocks of Otago as a...
Pregnancy scanner Blair Stewart enjoys the people and getting into the back blocks of Otago as a sheep and cattle pregnancy scanner. PHOTO: ALICE SCOTT
A desire to work outside and be his own boss is what led Blair Stewart into sheep and cattle pregnancy scanning.

Mr Stewart owns and operates Scan Central, based in Alexandra. At the peak of the season he will have three other scanners subcontracting to him in order to get through the workload. Mr Stewart also subcontracts himself to Greg Wisnesky from Scan South. Subcontracting was a good way to create efficiencies for all the scanners working together, he said.

"So we’re not crisscrossing all over the countryside just to scan a mob here and a mob there. We can get a lot more done if we’re all working in together."

A central location handy to the various categories of stock had been key to the enterprise, Mr Stewart said.

"The dairy scanning starts before Christmas to scan for cows that have got in calf to AI. Beef scanning starts around March and April, then it’s back to dairy for the dry-off scans in May and then in the winter it’s the sheep scanning."

His clients had a big spread of tupping dates depending on whether they were tupping merinos, half-breeds or crossbreeds, which worked well, and he spread his workload out over the course of a few months, Mr Stewart said.

His business would scan around 350,000 sheep in a season, and about 60,000 cattle.

It was working outside, seeing some "awesome countryside" and being in the company of "great people" which he enjoyed the most.

After 25 years in the game, he had worked alongside many farm owners and shepherds and had a good feel for what made a day go smoothly in a set of yards.

"I have always found the better organised the farmer is, the better the day goes."

When it came to loading beef cattle in the race, it was not necessary to fight "every last cow" to fill the race.

"A loose race means the cattle will stand more relaxed and it gives me room, particularly for that last cow if she decides to run back, I have time to get my arm out of the way before she hits the gate."

He saw "all sorts" of cattle temperaments, and referred to the beef cows that were seldom handled on back-country runs as "fresh" when they entered the cattle yards. Health and safety was always at the forefront of his mind.

"I have always got one eye on the girl behind me if she decides to jump up, trying get away."

Over the years, Mr Stewart has had a ringside seat to witness the technology advances in dairy and the investment that has gone into herd management and state-of-the-art facilities.

"Wearable technology and virtual fencing for pasture-based cows has been a big breakthrough for the dairy industry and great for picking up potential health issues early.

"But it’s showing how nuanced oestrus detection is, so scanning is still a vital tool," he said.

Another major change he was seeing was the decline in crossbred ewe numbers.

"With the way product returns are for crossbred wool and now meat, I know of some farmers who have cut back their ewe numbers in order to drop a labour unit and just use casual labour when they need it.

"But that’s probably a whole other challenge farmers are facing with some of the young ones coming through", he said.

By Alice Scott