Valuable cattle semen lost in Yarram blaze

Liz Bell

THE co-operative behind a genetics laboratory and storage facility in Yarram that was destroyed by fire on Tuesday morning says it is already “back in business”, despite initial fears workers could lose their jobs.

The fire destroyed 100 valuable cryogenic cylinders of cattle semen, and came as another blow to Gippsland farmers already struggling through crippling drought.

The building was the home of Yarram Herd Services, which has a milk testing facility and performs artificial insemination, and provides breeding advice and herd testing for dairy and beef farmers in and around Gippsland.

But manager Alan Blum said the “overwhelming” support of suppliers and farmers had ensured semen supply and associated services could continue, while milk samples would be sent to laboratories at Korumburra for testing until further notice.

Mr Blum said no staff were expected to lose their jobs as a result of the fire, nor was any short term slow down in production envisaged.

“We were already back on the job to a certain extent yesterday, and we have some great staff that we want to keep in jobs,” he said.

“Everyone in the community is behind us; we’ve had more than 200 calls of support in about 24 hours.”

Fire fighters were notified about 3am when a nearby resident and CFA member heard the sounds of breaking glass and exploding cylinders.

It took 10 fire crews and 42 firefighters more than two hours to contain the blaze, which gutted the storage facility.

Early costs are estimated at more than $1 million in equipment loss alone.

Yarram fire brigade captain Ian Badham said the 250 square metre building was fully alight when firefighters arrived, and posed some challenges because of the liquid nitrogen stored and the risk of more explosions.

First Lieutenant Brad Woods said the fire was one of the biggest the Yarram crew had ever fought, and had the potential to be devastating.

“Apart from the nitrogen, there were also a load of LPG gas bottles next door, so we had to take all that into account when we went in,” he said.

Senior Constable Brad Guenther at Yarram police said there had been numerous reports of “gunshots” through the morning, as the exploding cylinders continued to startle residents.

Already feeling the ongoing effects of crippling drought, some farmers say the loss of the semen, just on the brink of the artificial insemination season, was devastating.

It is believed all cattle semen – some of it thought to be entire herd stock – was lost in the blaze.

While Mr Blum conceded that some of the older beef semen stored at the facility was lost forever, he said most of the artificial insemination stock could be replaced with a similar high-quality product.

Yarram Herd Service’s board, management and staff met late yesterday to discuss the next step, which could involve seeking new premises or rebuilding.