Julie Skaife has been working for Select Breeders Services in Maryland for over 8 years now. Her primary responsibility is management of the SBS Affiliate Laboratory Network. However, as Julie explains, “One of the great benefits of working for a small company is that you get the opportunity to participate in just about everything. We have no HR department; we have no marketing or sales division; so we all get to wear multiple hats and pitch in where we can. It’s a great learning opportunity and I enjoy building new skills.” Julie was very much involved in the development of the SBS website and monthly email newsletter and continues to take an active role in directing the marketing efforts of the company.
As manager of the Affiliate Laboratory Network Julie oversees administration of the SBS Superior Quality Program, ensuring all affiliate labs follow standardized operating procedures (SOPs) and are in alignment with SBS-HQ on the analysis of sperm motility and concentration, thereby ensuring accurate reporting of semen quality and consistency in the production of breeding doses. What this involves is reviewing and updating SOPs (dependent upon advances in processing that have been developed as a result of in house research), training new affiliate members, providing support to existing affiliate labs by consultation or site visits and overseeing the quality control (QC) program whereby each affiliate lab submits QC straws for testing by SBS-HQ from a minimum of 25% of the ejaculates they freeze. This QC test of sperm motility, concentration and a bacterial culture ensures all labs are in alignment on the reporting of semen quality. Although her primary focus is on the US Affiliate Laboratory Network, Julie also coordinates with her counterparts in Australia and Europe to be sure the International Affiliate Labs are following the same high standards. Earlier this year Julie had an opportunity to travel to Australia to visit with the affiliate labs there to review protocol and quality control measures.
When asked what she loves most about her job, Julie responded,
“Most of all I love working with our clients and educating them about frozen semen, especially those who are considering using frozen semen for the first time or have had a bad experience with poor quality frozen semen in the past. These situations present a great opportunity to talk about the SBS difference. Not all frozen semen is created equally and it is so important that they understand why quality control is important and why SBS frozen semen and the support they receive from us will give them the confidence they need. Of course, I know they think I’m biased because I work for SBS but that is exactly why I work for SBS. The commitment of SBS for responsible development of the frozen semen industry and the emphasis on quality control is something I have always been an advocate of, it’s what brought me to SBS.”
Before coming to SBS Julie was at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in Physiology from the University of Sheffield in England Julie developed a keen interest in reproduction, specifically sperm physiology. It had always been her intent to work with horses, but education was also important. She loved school as a child and envisioned herself as a “crazy scientist” in a white lab coat mixing potions, so a PhD was also the goal. “At the time I wondered if I could combine my love of horses and sperm physiology, maybe I could get a PhD in equine sperm physiology? Those who know me know I’m very goal orientated, I just have to set my mind to it and I’m off. I was highly motivated, but at the same time I was also lucky, in the right place at the right time.” Julie went from Sheffield to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth to complete a Masters in Equine Science, primarily because it offered her the opportunity to write a thesis based upon research performed in a lab. She saw this as a great opportunity to get some hands on experience in equine reproduction. Her Masters project took her to the laboratory of Dr. Barry Ball at UC Davis where she stayed on to do a PhD. Her research focused on oxidative stress in equine sperm. This was then followed by a post-doc with Dr. Stuart Meyers at UC Davis, studying membrane physiology and cryopreservation of primate and equine sperm, before moving East to work for SBS. “I love my job! I get to combine my education and experience with my love of horses.”
Julie has three horses at home and competes in Eventing. However, her riding has taken a bit of back seat just recently due to the birth of her first child, Amelia, in June. Nonetheless she hopes to gear up this winter for a return to competition in the spring. Together with her husband, Justin, they own an old house built in the 1850s, “It’s a fixer upper and sometimes I feel like I’m living in ‘the money pit’, like the movie. But we wanted a house we could put ourselves into, and with a house like this we’re a piece of history, and that’s a very neat concept.”