Special Report: Two of the company’s leading veterinarians discuss how Apiam takes a best-practice approach to animal health in the dairy sector.

For veterinary company Apiam (ASX:AHX), 2020 has marked a turning point for profit growth after a multi-year period of capital investment.

Investors have taken notice, with AHX shares trading at multi-year highs near 70c.

But a well-worn phrase in investment circles is that companies are only as good as the people they employ.

In that context, Stockhead spoke this week with two senior Apiam veterinarians – Dr Lucy Collins and Dr Gemma Chuck – to learn more about how the company is building a sustainable competitive advantage in animal health and farm management.

For Chuck, a key focus over the last 15-18 months has been the rollout of Apiam’s ProDairy platform – a preventative herd health initiative for Australian dairy herds.

The impetus to develop the platform was based on Apiam’s “experiences at a herd level over time”

Like any major operational change, the ProDairy solution has come with its own set of challenges. But Chuck said the end result has justified that hard work.

“We’ve seen with the introduction of our preventative health programs and proactive monitoring , morbidity and mortality rates on our farms have been reduced to well below the industry standards,” she said.

“So I feel privileged to be part of this whole process. Not just operationally but from a strategic point of view as well — working to help farmers achieve what they need to achieve to succeed.”

It’s a similar story for Collins, an Apiam veterinarian who also works alongside her partner on his family dairy farm in south west Victoria.

Collins was recently awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study improved animal welfare practices for dairy cows.

Specifically, how to establish standardised measures that fit Australian systems, rather than protocols devised overseas.

In terms of animal welfare on Australian dairy farms, “I just felt there was a lot more we could be doing”, Collins said.

“Some of our farming clients are required by their processors to undertake an annual animal welfare audit, but they’re using overseas standards and assessment programs.”

“Talking to producers and being involved in some of these risk assessments highlighted that aspects of these programs are not always that relevant  for Australian farms.”

“Our domestic dairy industry is quite diverse and it’s not necessarily a case of ‘one size fits all’. I think there is plenty of scope to refine and improve these processes.”

Along with improved auditing processes, Collins said there’s huge opportunity to add value by creating animal welfare benchmarks for the Australian dairy industry.

“Benchmarking is a powerful tool for farmers that can stimulate positive change without the need for additional regulation.” she said.

“I want to explore how farmers can take ownership of welfare among their peers, which is something that would align well with our ProDairy clients.”

People power

Along with their respective specialties, Collins and Chuck said that working for Apiam has provided them both with the ideal environment to deploy their skills and find solutions.

This is particularly the case given that leadership roles in the cattle veterinary sector are more broadly skewed towards older male veterinarians.

“I think the industry is moving in the right direction, but there’s still a little way to go,” Chuck said.

“I’d love to see more women in leadership positions, so we encourage younger females to throw their hat into the ring.”

Chuck added that as an industry employer, Apiam has also stood out from the pack by providing the opportunity for talented female workers to balance their work/life needs.

“I’m a mother of two young children, and I don’t think I could’ve asked for a more supportive employer,” Chuck said.

In fact, Chuck was 20 weeks pregnant with a newly minted PhD when Apiam hired her. And shortly after that she went on maternity leave.

“In the 21st century, it shouldn’t matter.  But it kind of does and it certainly did to me. Before accepting my new role, I shared my news with my prospective manager and was pleasantly surprised by his reaction. Apiam  were really able to see the bigger picture and stay flexible and accommodating around my new family commitments.”.

And Collins highlighted the net effect of Apiam’s ability to recognise female talent: a win-win for both sides.

“The beauty of Gemma’s transition within Apiam is the company has been able to use her phenomenal skill set in a way that’s more advantageous across the business,” Collins said.

“When I joined Apiam my job description was quite different to what it is now,” Chuck explained.

“It’s kind of been a natural evolution to be involved in the development of ProDairy. And the opportunity here is what you make it because there’s always so much to do.”

“This company allows you to make your own opportunities. If you’ve got areas you’re interested in there’s a lot of support, and they’ll invest in your growth if you can put a good case to it.”

This article was developed in collaboration with Apiam, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.