The History & The Future
If you could combine these four Miller Mottos of Life into a few words, it would be JUST HARD WORK - "...never saw it kill anyone yet! Unless some rich relative gives you a kick start, which didn't happen to us. If you want to go anywhere in life, you must work - and not just hard - but smart and hard," says Barry Miller, husband and partner of Liz Miller in their business Rhondhu Stud, which will be turning 25 years old in 2010.
Barry is the oldest of three boys ‘sired' by well-respected old time grazier Elwin Miller. Barry admits, "I got myself a scholarship in the bush at 13 years of age, when my Dad passed away." With a twisted partnership will, Barry's Mum and the boys were left with nothing, and that's when Barry decided to just ‘get on with life, and not to dwell on the past. "I worked as a ringer, horse breaker and grader driver for years, and then I bought a road train before I even had a licence to drive it! Driving trucks was hard and enjoyable work, but I was on a losing battle on the business front, having had very little education," said Barry.
At age 20, Barry met his wife Liz. "She was still in school, but she loved the bush, loved horses, loved work and had a family pedigree full of intelligence. She deferred Vet Science to live this life, and time hasn't changed a thing," Barry said. They bought their first stallion, Dundee Mugwump in 1985 that became the foundation of Rhondhu Stud. Through the rest of the 80's, they worked their road train, did contract mustering, DPI shootouts, bull catching, spaying and taught horsemanship to kids. When their precious daughter Vicki was born, they moved to Liz's parent's property ‘West Leichhardt' to settle down some.
"We just kept building our business. We studied horses, cattle, trucks and cash flows, always trying to buy well
for a future. We knew we needed to own most of our gear and all of our livestock before we'd have a good enough cash flow to handle a cattle property," Liz explains. They then purchased their first property, ‘Dipvale Station' near Cloncurry, in 2001. They totally improved the run down property, and outgrew it in just five years, whilst still running ‘West Leichhardt'.
Due to their unbelievably busy lifestyle, Vicki went to Townsville Grammar Boarding School in Year 7. Vicki, now 18,
says, "The first year was miserable, but now I thank that great school for my education, my friends, my confidence and my future." Vicki has contemplated Vet Science and Business/Accounting Degrees at Uni, but for now wants to chase her dreams of journalism and photography whilst working at home for Mum and Dad. "Many kids take their parents for granted, and the businesses that they often inherit from their parents' lifelong efforts. I just want them to teach me everything they know, especially if I have to run it one day! I want to feel a part of it. I just can't get enough,"
Liz says, "We always had a simple, clear vision. Horses, cattle, trucks. We've probably surpassed our own expectations several times, and I think the only place where we've really gone wrong so far was not enough kids! Imagine the business we could have built if we had three or four kids like Vicki! It is so nice to have your own kids living your dream."
Barry and Liz were no different to many others, suffering some huge downturns along the way. The uninsured loss of the great Docs Crackin Oak, the theft of 40 stud cows and calves from ‘Dipvale', and near $250,000 in horse losses due to Birdsville Disease, would leave most of us out for the count. But not this couple - it's almost as if the losses in life gave them more drive.
A huge change of life was in order in January 2007. The purchase of the historic ‘Grass Hut', 20,000 acres of beautiful goldfield country between Townsville and Charters Towers, gave them yet another vision to work on. The relocation was huge. A thousand kilometres with 30 decks of stud cattle, 80 horses, three road train units, two body trucks, a gooseneck, five Toyotas, tractors, graders, loaders, kennels, furniture, dogs and staff. When asked
if the move was the right choice, Barry says, "By gee, the first six months was tough for me. I had been around Mt Isa my whole life; it was way out of my comfort zone. Liz was so happy with the future of it all, but this time I just didn't know. The place was so run down and the house was almost unliveable. The house area resembled a rubbish tip and every fence and every trough was stuffed - just nothing worked. For the first six months we didn't
have time to breath. We were totally consumed with relocating, renovations and repairs. But now, we all just love Grass Hut."
Liz says, "The country is kinder, not to mention the weather. We're right on the bitumen, just half an hour to Charter Towers and one hour to Townsville. Our location now lets us utilise vets for embryo programs, buy stockfeed, lick, groceries and fuel at reasonable prices, and we can send semen easily by air to clients. We get lot of visitors, and we're much more convenient for mares to travel to the stud for breeding."
Rhondhu Stud is not just horses. They have been quietly improving their stud cattle for some years now, and currently sell paddock Brahman and Charbray bulls aged 15-24 months. The stud has invested heavily into some of the leading bloodlines in Australia, with the main influences being Brahmans from Tony Fenech, Paul Fenech and Elrose Studs, and Charolais from Palgrove, Gobongo, and Baroola Studs. "We are proud of our female stud herd and now have a stud base of about 300 Grey Brahman, 120 Red Brahman and 120 Charbray cows, plus a good commercial herd. We are almost at a turning point to start selling some bulls through sales and at field days, but we want to get it right, because there's way too many bulls being sold that way now that aren't right. We love our Brahmans, but the high demand for Charbrays and ¾ Charolais is hard to pass by. Their performance really holds a market place," explains Liz and Barry.
The facilities at Grass Hut are getting impressive. Locals have nicknamed the Millers the Mushrooms - ‘cause they just grow overnight!' They reckon there's been more done there in two years than in the full district in 20. The 89-year-old house, which was brought out from Ravenswood on the last train in 1928, has been fully renovated and looks a treat. There are now guest and staff units plus a caretaker's house set amongst a rapidly spreading oasis of lawn. There are new and renovated sheds everywhere you look, and Barry's neatly painted blue and white road trains compliment the ‘blue and white everything' scheme. This is all set just 100 metres off the bitumen, and the local wives all reckon they need to make it a 60km zone past Grass Hut, just for the safety of their inquisitive husbands passing by!
Barry and Liz have also just finished building a state of the art, full size arena and cut out yard, just four canter
strides from a 60 metre x 20 metre breezeway barn with 24 stables, feed and tack room. Barry says, "The cost savings of designing and building it all ourselves was astounding, we did it over the wet season, and completed it just a week before we had to head out west mustering. But it will be all there when we get back, and then we'll nearly live in it!
The paddocks, yards, semen mount and vet crush all make for easy work for Liz in the breeding season. Liz uses an ultrasound to follicle scan and pregnancy test all the mares herself, down to just 14 days pregnant. She scans up to 15 mares a day in the busy season. "The cost savings to us and our clients is huge. We hear of so many people who get a final invoice that is bigger than the service fee and for just a simple natural service - well that's just not good business. We can also work with the vets in Townsville for AI's and embryos for client's mares, as well as our own," remarked Liz. All maresare exceptionally well cared for, using a combination of stabling and good paddocks. You can even send Rhondhu Stud a pregnant mare, and get your mare back in foal, with the foal at foot handled. "We couldn't supply semen before Christmas in 2008, but this year we will be ready for breeding in September," said Liz.
Liz says they always try and hold a feeling of being part of an ‘Australian professional industry', not just another horse stud. Liz would like to see the stud industry come together and form a set of guidelines that the professional studs can share and adhere to.
They want to do the right thing by people. They hold their reputation and honesty in high regard. There are no lies with their horse sales and if they don't think they have what suits you, then so be it. They also help a lot of events with donations, and often judge with little or no charge. Liz is responding to good enquiries to run Challenge Clinics, both at home and away, due to the recent surge in interest in Stockman's Challenge events.
Liz explains, "People are loving the Challenges in Australia. There is a huge window of opportunity opening here for this sport to grow immensely. The event is exciting to watch, the prize money is getting better and the nominations are reasonable. There is one in near every town, and you don't have to be a professional or rich to have a go. A lot of committees have prizes to encourage the ‘upcoming' and local riders, and even though the atmosphere is highly competitive, it is also very friendly compared to other sports.
Some diehard horse clients of other professional sports are now seeking trainers who will train and show them a Challenge horse, for all the reasons above. It is the Australian version of the Working Cowhorse, and look how big that is in the States! Stockman's Challenges could become a big industry in Australia in the near future, and could also spark some good export enquiries for Challenge horses back to the States."
Liz continues, "It is often a huge misconception that we are ‘just Campdrafters'. Australian horsemen in general,
can be very critical in their comments about various studs and stallions, without even having any real knowledge on what they're even criticising! We have a lot to offer the Challenge, Cutting and Reining industries also, but because we're not cutters or reiners, many people automatically assume we can't supply it, but they are so wrong. We have the mare and stallion power, and we're even happy to embryo and use overseas semen to give people what they want to buy - they only have to ask."
Barry, Liz and Vicki work with staff numbers varying from two to 12, depending on where they are. Generally speaking they work out west mustering at ‘West Leichhardt', carting cattle and hay, or contract mustering from Easter to September, and then spend September to Easter at Grass Hut. "There's no hiding it that we work hard. We have our share of staff issues, like everyone else - finding the ones with the good minds can be hard. The bludging staff don't last long, but the ones who want to learn and go somewhere in life often stay for ages, or make strong friendships, returning for some time with us when it suits their work. We like quiet, honest staff with energy and respect, and particularly the ones who look after our gear and our animals. We're real fussy on that," states Barry."
Rhondhu Stud is looking forward to a busy season, with good enquiry on the beautiful imported stallion in Shining Sheriff that has the first of his 14 foals due to drop to mostly Docs Spinifex* mares in November.
Their other resident stallions for 2009 are Docs Truman, Acre Maker and Mr Charisma, with some talk of maybe another import in 2010? There are also two surprise packages, rising 2 year old colts in the making - an awesome roan stud by Blue Duck Okie (US A) out of the good Docs Spinifex* mare Shania Spin, and a chestnut stud by Bobs Hickory Rio (USA) out of the top colt producer, Miss T Olena, by Roc O Lena.
Barry and Liz states, We've put a lot into developing a line of horses that we can promote with confidence. Our ‘ideal' horse has a good quiet trainable mind, stands on good bone, with straight legs and good feet. They generally stand between 14.3hh and 15.3 hh, with a nice wither and a good length of rein. They have a big heart, and can do a days work with ease. They walk well, have a smooth canter, and are just as happy mustering or competing. They have a pedigree that will compliment any broodmare band in time to come, and mostly with cutting, reining and cowhorse bloodlines. We believe that the horses we breed are ideal Challenge prospects, which will also go Campdrafting, Cutting and Reining at top competition levels."
Rhondhu Stud has an impressive mare base, with 10 Docs Spinifex* mares, 8 Docs Crackin Oak mares, 4 Docs Freckles Oak mares, 2 Roc O'Lena mares, 13 mares by the Rhondhu stallions, as well as 20 other mares by Pepto Stylish Oak, Acres Destiny, D'Mac Daddy, Lethal Lena and other such stallions. You can guarantee that there is
a stallion at Rhondhu Stud to suit most any mare, and the range of progeny for sale out of one of the best broodmare bases in Australia is definitely outstanding.
If you haven't had the pleasure yet - you just have to visit Rhondhu Stud. Good horses - Good cattle - Good people.
And who knows with an arena like that, it won't be long until there's a good Campdraft or Challenge!