A Kyabram equine vet is flipping the script when it comes to stud breeding.
Normally horse studs will hire a vet to work solely for them, but Northern Rivers Equine is a vet practice which hires the stud horses.
Right now the vet clinic is winding down from a busy breeding season, which saw them stand six stallions (three flown in from the United States) and host more than 300 visiting mares.
Kath McIntosh is the vet who started the clinic and its breeding facility, known as Llowalong Farms.
“We’ve been standing stallions for four years,” Dr McIntosh said.
“We went from one, to three to six in a very short period of time.”
Both Northern Rivers and Llowalong Farms are headquartered on Gray Rd, a few minutes drive from Kyabram’s main street.
Employed across the two businesses are four vets and 12 support staff, including stud hands and vet nurses.
“The stud side has become super-charged in the last two years,” Dr McIntosh said.
“There is definitely a need for new blood in the industry and we’re got a lot of that.”
‘New blood’ refers to both horses and people.
Harness racing is at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to race track breeding.
Whereas the thoroughbred industry puts thousands of foals on the ground each year, the Standardbreds used in trotting were having so few foals the Australian industry was headed towards collapse.
“Our (industry) foal crops were so low that it meant races couldn’t continue in a few years,” Dr McIntosh said.
“People were leaving the industry for a whole lot of reasons, the lack of prize money and things like that … the bar has been at a low level and there is a real need for people with the skills.”
Growing up on a Gippsland dairy farm, Dr McIntosh was a general vet who mainly worked with cattle before she started the equine clinic.
“I came into the area to work for the Kyabram Vet Clinic,” she said.
“In 2009 I started working for myself out of the back of my car doing all-hours house calls. It was 2012 when we purchased 40 hectares of land and set up the clinic.”
The equine clinic offered the normal AI, breeding and foaling services alongside veterinary care, and Dr McIntosh soon realised there was gap in the market.
“We have a real interest in the breeding side of it and we were doing everything already,” she said.
They stood their first stallion, Yankee Rockstar, in partnership with Lauriston Bloodstock for $1980 a pop and it took off from there.
This season the US sensation Pastor Stephen stood at Llowalongs for a $5500 service fee.
A quarantine facility was soon constructed on-property so international stallions could be imported and used by the vets straight away.
“Standardbreds are essentially all AI,” Dr McIntosh said.
“Even though the stallions are here, we collect the semen. This allows us to use it and ship it chilled rather than frozen which lowers the fertility rates.”
The American stallions were packed up and shipped back to the US in mid-February to stand in the North American breeding season.
These days Llowalong Farms receives mares from Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
“We cater for people who have 20 mares to those who have just the one. She might have been their first race horse and they’ve kept her as a broodmare and she lives here full-time because the owners don’t have a backyard big enough,” Dr McIntosh said.
“We are in a unique position to provide nearly everything.”
The clinic even cuts its own hay for boarders and patients, thanks to husband Luke McIntosh who drives trucks when he isn’t busy on the farm machinery.
“Getting quality hay is very important, especially when we’re talking about sick horses,” Dr McIntosh said.
“As we’ve grown and purchased an extra 160 hectares down the road, the farm has become an almost full-time job for Luke on top of his own trucking business.”
The McIntosh family lives right beside the foaling paddock, allowing Dr McIntosh to be constantly on-hand.
“Every birth is attended by a qualified vet which is great for the clients,” she said.
Right now Llowalong Farms is busy preparing yearlings for sale — another service they offer which continues to turn the business into a one-stop shop.
Dr McIntosh said the most rewarding part of the job was creating healthy life.
“Take it right back, to when you’re looking at an embryo under a microscope. Next minute it’s running around on four legs and in two years it’s racing on TV.
“We’re at a point now where we have broodmares coming in who were born here.”
Dr McIntosh admitted as a vet who offers race day services and works directly with athletes she witnesses the “not so great parts of racing as that is what we do as vets”, which include racing injuries and lameness which can happen in any athlete.
“With Standardbreds there is a big focus on life after racing,” she said.
“Because the breed is generally very quiet with an easy temperament and people are keen to work them them.”
Programs for retiring race horses include HERO, run by Harness Racing Victoria, the Standardbred Pleasure and Performance Horse Association of Victoria and a successful campdrafting venture run by Nutrien Ag and Harness Racing NSW.