JEANETTE FISHERThe Jack Green Churchill Fellowship to investigate calf rearing systems with emphasis on neonatal bovine immunology, calf nutrition, feed conversion and the use of natural medicines to reduce dependence on antibiotics - USA, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand
My 45th birthday was especially memorable because that was the day of the presentation ceremony at which I was awarded the 2002/2 Jack Green Churchill Fellowship.
At that stage, as well as running a commercial beef herd and Merino sheep flock we were raising ≈ 1,000 calves a year on our farm in the Western Districts of Victoria. We had made major improvements to our calf management in the previous 5 years and I, being the one primarily in charge of the calves, had made contact with most of the credible Australian sources of dairy calf information.
I still felt that there was more to learn, so I started looking overseas for information. My enquiries were just confirming U.S.A. & Canada as the leaders in dairy calf research when our jillaroo suggested that I should apply for a Churchill Fellowship. I checked the closing date and, with only a few days to spare, started gathering the information I needed for the application.
Given the speed at which the application was completed and my lack of formal qualifications in the field, I was extremely surprised to be called for a preliminary interview and subsequently for a final interview. I can still recall my sheer terror at being confronted with the boardroom table (which, at the time appeared to be at least 50’ long) surrounded by the erudite members of the judging panel. Fortunately, the panel member sitting next to me was a surgeon and it was obvious that she was impressed by what I was saying, which gave me the courage to continue on without too much hesitation.
Notification of my success was a great relief because the application process had made me realise what a wealth of information the international scene had to offer in terms of research findings, contact with other calf and heifer growers, facility inspections, dairy heifer conferences, and personal contact with scientists and educators. I would have been very frustrated, had I not won the Fellowship, to have found that all this information was available and not have had access to it.
The objective of my Fellowship travel was to learn everything I could about dairy calves; the three key areas in which I had a particular interest were neonatal bovine immunology, veal production including calf nutrition and feed conversion, and the use of natural medicines to reduce dependence on antibiotics.
I spent over 13 weeks travelling to 6 countries, starting in the U.S., slipping over the border to Canada, back to the U.S. and then on to Ireland, Holland and Denmark before stopping off in New Zealand on the way home.
Throughout my travels the people I encountered were most hospitable and helpful. In some countries the Churchill Fellowship name alone opened doors. In other countries it had no significance but even there people, although lacking specific knowledge of Churchill Fellowships or the Trust and its aims, recognised that a Fellowship was both an honour and a tribute to the recipient’s skills and dedication to their particular topic.
The trip was all I had hoped and more; in the areas of immunology and veal production I learned a great deal. I found it difficult to find information on the topic of natural medicine apart from in New Zealand where homeopathy is quite widely used. However, my continued communication with scientists overseas and the findings of ongoing research have now given me the calf management skills to rear calves with minimal use of antibiotics.
Overall, in terms of knowledge transfer and personal development, it was a life changing experience and one for which I will always be grateful.
FELLOWSHIP CONCLUSIONS & OUTCOMES
The opportunity to see such a wide variety of calf management systems and to talk to the operators of those systems was invaluable. No amount of research on the internet could ever deliver the wealth of information I gained, nor could it foster the personal relationships with researchers, dairy farmers and calf growers which I developed, as a result of my Churchill trip.
Ten years later and now a resident of Tasmania, I am still committed to improving calf and heifer management practices in Australia and overseas and I still have a wide circle of contacts throughout the global dairy industry which all stem from my being awarded the Jack Green Churchill Fellowship.