Helping people help their animals

Andrea Murphy, of Alexandra, is a ruminant nutritionist. Photo: Supplied
Andrea Murphy, of Alexandra, is a ruminant nutritionist. Photo: Supplied
The future of the primary sector will rely on attracting high school leavers into the industry. Southern Rural Life continues a series looking at different career paths. This week we talk to Andrea Murphy, a ruminant nutritionist in Alexandra.

Q. Name and background?

Andrea Murphy - ruminant nutritionist.

Q. Job description?

I work across all ruminant sectors: sheep, beef, dairy and goats, with a view to helping farmers increase the health, productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of their farming enterprises.

It makes sense that the better the nutrition of the cow, the better her health and performance will be.

Ruminant nutrition is an extension of agronomy and starts with understanding the nutrient parameters of the feeds grown on farm (pasture, crops, silages, etc).

From there, a nutritionist collaborates with the farmer to help create a plan to ensure the animals have what they need to achieve the target results.

Q. How long have you been in the position?

I have been working as a ruminant nutritionist for my entire professional career, spanning three continents and two decades.

Q. What does the job involve?

Every day is different.

My favourite days are out in the paddock with the animals and the farmers, gathering information about feed budgets, nutrient analysis, production data and making observations about animal behaviour.

These days are balanced with office days to review of all the information collected to formulate a ration plan for a specific phase of production.

I also enjoy presenting seminars, helping to upskill people across the industry to create a deeper understanding of the complexities of animal nutrition.

Ruminants are quite complicated creatures as they have four-chambered stomachs.

Helping people understand the digestive physiology of ruminants helps empower them to make feeding and management decisions which can yield good results.

Other days are spent networking with other rural professionals and upskilling my own knowledge and finding opportunities for collaboration across skill sets.

Q. What qualifications, experience and knowledge are required?

The route to becoming an animal nutritionist can be wide and varied.

My journey began with a bachelor of science with an animal science major, followed by a master of science in ruminant nutrition and international development from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Following my studies, I have worked in many diverse roles, from working with feed manufacturers, to international development projects, to independent farm consulting to rural retail technical support. I am currently working with Metabolic Precision Nutrient Formulation, a division of Image Holdings Ltd.

Q. Why do you like the job and what have been the highlights?

Working as an animal nutritionist is more than just a job to me.

I love that I am learning all the time through the process of helping people help their animals be the best they can be.

I also love to travel, and working as a nutritionist has taken me all over the world.

Q. Is it hard to attract young people into this type of job and, if so, how could that be addressed?

The biggest challenge to creating interest in the field of animal nutrition is the fact that many people do not know animal nutritionists exist.

Even in my own experience, when I was in high school and embarking on my university studies, I did not even know there was such a thing as animal nutrition.

It was not until I was in university, I discovered animal nutrition courses and started meeting people working in this field.

Q. What advice would you give to a school pupil considering entering the industry for a similar job?

Focus on a broad base of the core sciences, biology, microbiology, chemistry and bio-physics as well as mathematics and statistics.

It is funny that I say this now as I was not the top of my class in any of these subjects back in high school.

Ultimately, I had (and still have) a passion for wanting to understand how animals tick.

I love working in agriculture because it is a place where a deep understanding of the sciences can be applied in a practical way to optimise environmental sustainability and at the same time meet the fundamental human need to feed the world.

Q. What is a little-known fact about the job that you would like to share?

Ruminants are incredibly generous animals. It never ceases to amaze me how they can take feeds we humans cannot process (pastures and silages), and turn them into delicious and nutritious food for people.

I love the old saying that dairy cows are the ''foster mothers of the human race''.

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