A little while ago my whole DVM1 class packed up and went out to the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus as part of our Animal Health and Production Systems class. I was excited, because who doesn’t like a couple days without lectures?
In the morning we caught the bus from our regular campus bright and early and began a drive out into the Australian country side. As we move from spring into summer, the rainfall has decreased and the pastures are not growing as fast and are beginning to dry up and turn yellow. Our first stop was at Chatswood, a thoroughbred horse stud. A stud farm is a farm that focuses on breeding of animals.
The horse racing industry is huge in AUS, especially in Melbourne. High class and very famous races like the Melbourne Cup take place only a few minutes from my house! Unfortunately the Melbourne Cup is on one of the same days as my final exams this year so it doesn’t look like I’ll be going.
The farm was built on 1000 acres and is very impressive looking. We talked a bit about the process behind bringing mares to be served by 1 of the 3 stallions on the property and everything that process included. Thoroughbreds are only allowed to have natural breedings (instead of artificial insemination) and this brings along a new set of challenges and things to look out for. My group was lucky because we got to watch some vet checks on the horses, each horse would come in for an ultrasound to look for follicles on her ovaries. If the follicles are a certain size the vet will say she is ready for breeding soon. The ultrasound is also used to detect if the horses are pregnant and if they have twins. It is very hard for twins to be carried to term in horses and so if 2 embryos are detected one of them will need to be terminated. We also got to watch a Caslick procedure being preformed and undone (this is a very common and minor surgical procedure that equine vets will do).
Our group then went to the breeding area; it is very nice, clean, quiet, and covered. Here we watched a teaser stallion come in and prep a mare for her breeding. I then quietly peaked through a hole in the gate to watch Reward for Effort (one of Chatswood’s best stallions) breed the mare. Thoroughbred breeding on a stud is very expensive ($11 000 for a service) and an important procedure that can be very dangerous for the handlers.
The foaling area has a 24 hour watch over all of the paddocks as each foaling is assisted. After each foal is born a blood sample is taken and assessed.
Next we went to Kennedy Creek, which was our professor’s own polled Dorset farm. I found it actually really cool to create a connection between someone we are learning A LOT from in lecture and his actual life experience in agriculture. Dorset sheep are used for meat but not wool. This does not mean that they do not need to be sheared! The wool from these sheep would only generate an income of 5% or less for the farm.
While on farm our prof (who is also a vet) identified a sick sheep. The animal was moved out of the hot sun to recover. The sheep was likely sick with either thiamine deficiency or pulpy kidney (no way to know unless diagnostic tests were done). While we were on farm the sheep began to improve and look better. Talking about this individual sick sheep was a great learning opportunity on the differences between single animals and herd health.
The second day started at the sheep farm on Dookie Campus where we were able to assist with the marking of lambs. Marking included putting elastic on the tails of all sheep (tail docking) and testicles of male sheep (castration), vaccination (for Clostridial diseases), applying fly strike spray, and applying an ear tag for identification.
After we were finished marking the lambs we went inside the shed to look at the rams. We discussed important things to assess at a ram sale (teeth, toes, temperament, testicles, and skin). We also spoke about crutching and muesling and the advantages and disadvantages of each husbandry practice. I thought it was interesting that Dookie is one of the only farms in VIC that does not muels their sheep; the practice was supposed to be banned in AUS around 2 years ago but fell through because of the fly strike problems. We practiced catching sheep and how to safely tip them over so we can look at them (always fun!).
Our last stop was to the dairy calves and then the Dookie Campus robotic dairy! Here is some coverage from when the dairy opened:
This is the same dairy we visited during my first week of vet school. Cows can be milked whenever they please, the robot will take a sample from each cow to test for infection and milk quality. The robot is able to keep track of all cows treated with medications and what the withdrawal periods. Detecting when cows are ready to breed is very complicated in the dairy industry—the robots can help with this too!! The robots will keep track of all the steps each cow takes (each cow wears a pedometer) and the amount of rumination/chewing to create a graph that will give a good indication of when the cow is in heat (ready to breed)!! How cool is it to see science and farming come together like this?!
I really enjoyed getting out of the city for a couple of days and seeing these high quality and top class farms was very interesting! 🙂