Saturday, December 2, 2023

Spreading the word

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Isabel Tait and Rhiannon Handcock met as students at Massey University with a shared passion for animals and science.
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Now they aim to share their passion with the masses.

The AgriSciencer, launched in June, is a web/social media platform that aims to break down the most relevant scientific research articles and remove the science jargon to create summaries that get the key messages out for the farming industry.

Handcock says she wanted a platform to share relevant research to make it more accessible to wider audiences outside of academia. 

“We were both following exercise and nutrition pages run by scientists,” Handcock says. 

“They were working within their areas and trying to break down the complicated research for a wider audience and I thought ‘is there anyone doing that in animal science in New Zealand?’ So, I said to Izzy ‘hey I’ve been thinking about doing this thing over the last few months, would you like to join me?’ And that was that. Within a few weeks Izzy had us sorted.”

The pair aim to publish one blog a week on their site, each focusing on their area of expertise – Handcock on dairy production and Tait on the sheep industry – as well as sharing content of their own and others on social media. Tait focuses on Instagram while Handcock looks after the Facebook page. 

Past blog topics have included evaluating the effectiveness of calf jackets, the effects of milk allowance on growth and behaviour of dairy calves, the energy and protein requirements of growing lambs, the effect pasture height has during lambing and mastitis and antimicrobials. 

“We really want to see how it goes, get feedback and see what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been creating infographics and that’s been really fun,” Tait says. 

“One of our best posts on Instagram was of my Dad scanning the sheep on our farm. People were really interested in what was going on. We see this stuff all the time but don’t think of it as interesting. 

“I remember telling my Dad that 2000 people had seen it and he just couldn’t fathom it. Why would 2000 people want to see him doing something he did all the time but people want to learn.”

The pair have managed to run the platform alongside their doctoral research with Massey’s School of Agriculture and Environment. 

Handcock recently submitted her paper, which has freed up a little more time, while Tait still has a few months to go before submitting hers.

They have also begun to share the load with guest bloggers. PhD student Michaela Gibson recently wrote their first guest blog about the measures of the cannon bone in cows predicting the structure of the shoulder bone.

“Right now we are doing it all off our own backs so it would be great to get it funded somehow down the line,” Tait says.

“It takes a lot of time and effort on top of everything else you are doing but we think it’s worth doing. Instagram and Facebook aren’t really talked about in our academic circles all that often so it would be nice to keep leading in this space. 

“But with careers you have to have a bit of support to keep leading the charge.”

After the completion of their studies Handcock wants to explore a postdoctoral placement overseas for a few years while Tait wants to work in the NZ agriculture industry.

How they got here

Isabel Tait grew up on an intensive breeding and finishing sheep farm in western Southland in a place called Otahuti, which runs 2500 Romney breeding ewes and 100 Poll Dorset breeding ewes. 

She has an agriscience degree with first class honours from Massey. Her interest lies in sheep. She has worked as a junior research officer in soil science at Massey for two years. She hopes to complete her thesis by the end of the year.

Rhiannon Handcock has a passion for cows, specifically dairy. She was born and raised in Auckland and lived there till her parents bought a lifestyle block just outside Pukekohe when she was 11. It is where her passion for cows began as she started to get involved with rearing, milking and showing her Jersey cows. 

Once she left high school she combined her love of cows and science with a science degree majoring in animal science and agriculture. She completed her honours in 2014 and worked for LIC for a year. 

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