As autumn arrives in the Southern Hemisphere the team at Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital (GVEH) reflect on another successful breeding season. We have been providing specialized care to the horses of Victoria, Australia since our foundation in 1988 by Dr. Angus McKinnon and Dr. Jim Vasey. The practice has expanded rapidly since and now routinely attracts horses from across Australia and New Zealand. The 85 acre irrigated farm is home to the main hospital, the reproduction center and the international quarantine facility. With the increasing popularity of our embryo transfer program it quickly became apparent this property was not big enough to cater our needs prompting the purchase of a second farm a few kilometers from the practice.
The reproduction center at GVEH is led by Dr. Angus McKinnon who is ably assisted by center manager Leann Newton, theriogenology resident Dr. Sean Finan and assistant manager Caitlin Boucher. Because of the seasonal nature of the business the staff of the reproduction center swells during the breeding season. This season we were lucky to have the assistance of Dr. Claire Freeman a theriogenology resident from Louisiana State University and a draft of enthusiastic interns from universities across the world. As we head towards winter and the workload decreases. Our seasonal staff members are departing but not before some of the team took the opportunity to attend the wonderful International Symposium on Equine Reproduction XI conference in Hamilton, New Zealand where the very latest in equine reproductive research was presented by experts from across the globe. Angus (photo right) was kept especially busy as he hosted a three day veterinarian seminar in conjunction with the main conference. This time of year normally gives staff members time to take a well-earned break except for our theriogenology resident Sean who is studying at every opportunity for the upcoming board exams to be held in Portland, Oregon in early August. We wish him the best of luck!
It’s not just the staff which leave on vacation during the off-season. Stallions that were resident for the breeding season have left to spend the winter at home. Among them, leading sire of cutting horses in Australia, Peptos Stylish Oak (Peptoboonsmal x Moms Stylish Kat), who has frozen semen available in Australia and the US. We also hosted the successful Standardbred trotting stallion, Yankee Spider (Muscles Yankee x So So Chic), who stood with us for the first time this season. He enjoyed a very busy cooled semen campaign with mares in foal to him spread across the country. We are based in a region renowned for its Standardbred breeding and this year we have again successfully managed the breeding of hundreds of mares with chilled semen from studs in the region and from some of the major studs in New Zealand.
This year we saw a further steady increase in the number of mares visiting the reproduction center to be bred with frozen semen. We continue to see a wide variety of mare breeds availing of national and international genetics through the use of this technology. The breakdown of breeds is quite evenly split between Standardbred, Warmblood, Quarter Horse, Australian Stock Horse and Polo Ponies with a few exceptions. The most exciting this year was a trio of Fjord ponies that visited for a period! The focus changes for us during the winter months and now that mare breeding is finishing we see an increase in the number of stallions visiting to have semen frozen. We are a recognized international quarantine facility and currently have a number of stallions undergoing the rigorous testing regime to ensure their semen is qualified for export. We have exported semen to the United States, European Union, New Zealand, New Caledonia and the United Arab Emirates and are currently arranging testing requirements for semen export to China.
Our embryo transfer program continues to be very popular among breeders and our success rate exceeded our expectations this year. One of the strengths of our program is our large herd of recipient mares, which after some recent expansion has grown to over 400 mares! This large herd has allowed us to accept embryos flushed at remote locations and shipped to us for transfer. Up to 40% of our embryos are now shipped in from around Victoria and interstate, thus allowing mares to be managed at home and saving owners expensive mare transport costs. A highlight of this past season was harvesting triplet embryos from a Warmblood mare bred with frozen semen and achieving three pregnancies with all three recipient mares now approaching the second trimester. The mare owner was very pleased if a little shocked, as they had not quite budgeted for three foals at once!
We continue to work on our advanced assisted reproductive techniques program. We now routinely perform oocyte retrieval for oocyte transfer or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) in conjunction with Monash University. Recently we were able to assist the owners of two seriously ill mares who unfortunately had to be euthanized due to the severity of their condition. The referring veterinarians in these cases were able to retrieve the ovaries from the mares and have them shipped to us to harvest oocytes for fertilization. One shipment of ovaries arrived by chartered airplane in the early hours leading to a late night harvesting and searching for oocytes by our resident Sean!
For those interested in further information about GVEH including some articles by Dr. McKinnon and information about some of the research we have undertaken please click here.
Photos provided by GVEH. Photo credit: Anita Morris