Thursday, August 11, 2011


Well done to Jessica Birnie, Foaling Manager at Eliza Park Northwood, a much deserved winner of the Young Achiever Award at the recent North East Thoroughbred Breeders Awards night.
Following is a brief profile of Jess which appeared in a previous issue of Eliza Park’s newsletter.

It takes a special kind of person to trudge around paddocks in the pitch black during the middle of winter!
For those of us who keep our seats warm during daylight hours, the stroke of midnight is usually reserved for snoring, but that’s often the time when Jessica Birnie is just getting into full stride.
The Foal Unit Manager at Eliza Park Northwood, Jess doesn’t see much daylight during those first months of spring, working from dark to dawn at a farm that now welcomes in over 250 new arrivals each year.
But don’t worry too much about Jess ...
“I love it. You never get tired of seeing the new babies … I’m a real animal lover to begin with so I don’t care whether it’s horses, lambs or cattle: you never really get tired of seeing them born.”
And while Jess admits that a lot of people would fail to see the ‘glamour’ side of her role at Eliza Park, she quickly dispels the myth that it’s a matter of flicking on the tower lights and sitting next to the heater all night.
“Despite the lighting setup at Eliza offering very good coverage, mares have a tendency to seek out the darkest corners of the paddock when they are about to foal.
“You won’t often see a mare beginning to sweat up so you do quite a bit of walking around the paddocks to see where a lot of them are at.
“In fact, during September and October you are probably on the edge of your seat all night.”
Busiest night?
“We’ve had up to five foal some nights and even without any problems you have keep a fairly close eye on them for a couple of hours: to make sure they’re on their feet, passed their meconium (i.e. first bowel movement) and getting enough colostrum (mother’s milk).
“Still, everyone knows where to find me at night time!”
Jess wasn’t born in to a horsey family per se, but did take up riding at age six and it’s been in her blood ever since.
Obtaining her stable hand certificate from Racing Victoria at 17, Jess worked as a strapper for leading Melbourne trainer Tony Vasil before doing yearling prep with the famous Widden Stud in 2005.
In 2006, Jess successfully completed a Diploma of Equine Stud Management at Goulburn Ovens TAFE whereupon she was awarded a scholarship with the Irish National Stud.
Jess worked a spell at Eliza Park before heading to Ireland where she finished her course in the top 10 and was offered a position at the National Stud preparing yearlings and acting as foaling supervisor.
Indeed, at the National Stud, the student became the teacher, imparting the fundamentals of foaling to the next breeding course students.
Returning to Australia, Jess worked the sales season at Arrowfield Stud before heading back to Eliza Park and three full seasons in the foaling unit and post natal care.
“Eliza Park’s a great place to work: everyone is very focused on what they do, but you have a lot of fun as well.
“And you get to meet someone ‘new’ every night!”

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