So you want to be a Cow Vet (OSU c/o 2019)

Hello fellow future veterinarians,

My name is Jackie Lee and I’m a rising third year at “The” Ohio State University. I would like to start by thanking Erika for the invitation to author some veterinary school ramblings. I am looking forward to chronicling my path to becoming a full fledged cow vet and to sharing my experiences with other vet students.

So to begin, a little bit about myself. I am a ruminant person – specifically, all things dairy cattle and sheep. I am going to talk about how I became one of those crazy cow-vet-wannabes and offer some advice to those who might be considering a career in dairy medicine.

I am originally from a (used-to-be) farming town in northeast Connecticut. Our little town is known for having the largest number of dairies of any town in CT. I became familiar with some of the CT dairy industry when I worked on a dairy during the summers of my undergraduate career. Actually, working on that small 70 cow dairy and riding along with one of our local cow vets is what first inspired me to consider dairy medicine. Not only was I fortunate enough for that experience but I also grew up on a small hobby farm where we raised beef cattle. I am  engaged to a dairy farmer and professional sheep shearer – hence how I become acquainted with a fondness for those wooly four legged devils. We have a profitable sheep business together selling breeding stock, market lambs and quality wool. So, if you ever wanna talk sheep, let me know!

Now is probably a good time to say – I do NOT think that you need a farming background to be a large animal vet. However, you need to be motivated enough to learn on your own because vet school does not prepare you to know the farming way of life.  I would highly recommend visiting farms as well as riding with a cow vet if possible. It is often easy to visit dairy farms – many times, a simple phone call to the dairy to ask if you can visit is all that it takes. Another option is to get a farm job part time if you can manage it. I got a job during my second year of vet school on our university dairy and I’ve continued to learn there. It is also great for my sanity because I love working there with the cows and it provides me with a break from vet school. Finally, join a food animal club if your vet school has one. OSU has a very prominent food animal club that offers lectures and wetlabs on a variety of food animal topics which really helps supplement core curriculum. Basically, it really helps to immerse yourself in the farm environment one way or another – you can’t learn the farming way of life entirely from a book or sitting in class.

And it truly is a way of life. When you are a dairy vet, your job is to help make it a well managed, profitable business through the health and welfare of the cows. You are married to the dairy and their problems are your problems. Even if its 3 AM on a Sunday morning or during Christmas dinner. In my opinion, farmers have one of the most honorable professions in the world with some of the highest responsibility – feeding the people of this earth. Dairying is perhaps the most difficult way of farming compared to beef ranchers, poultry and pig growers though each has their own set of challenges. They work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year and you should expect to do the same if you are on their team.

Ok, down off my soap box now.

Another piece of advice that I can offer to you is to get hands on experience during your free summers. It is so incredibly invaluable especially in the large animal field because we don’t always have as many large animal clinical opportunities in school as we do compared with small animal. For example, my first year summer I externed at four mixed animal practices. I started to learn basic cow vet skills that you need to know such as palpation and DA surgery. This summer, I have six externships which are mostly dairy exclusive or large animal mixed practice. I will be blogging about some of those as the summer goes on.

Finally, be as proactive as possible about your physical health if you want to be a cow vet. It is a physically demanding career, more so than small animals many times so you need to be strong. To clarify, I’m not talking about being hulked out, could-be-a-WWE-wrestler strong. You can be a small person (like my 5’4” self) and still be a good cow vet (trust me, I’ve seen it), but you really need to have some reserve strength. You also need to think smarter than say a 6 foot tall, 200 pound male cow vet. What I mean is, be more creative when we are not strong or big enough to get the job done the traditional way. We sit in class all day and see our muscles atrophying before our very eyes so when we get to the summer it can be a little bit of a shock to our body. I took up long distance running to establish physical endurance and I maintain core strength through my work at the dairy. It has truly helped me maintain physical strength so far this summer so I’m going to stick with it.

Well, that is all the advice I can think of for now for other aspiring cow vet wannabes. My first cow vet-student chronicle will be on my bovine externship in New Mexico – stay tuned!