Insights for aspiring cow vets

Externship Project

Ikendale Farm Inc., a family owned dairy farm is a familiar fixture located in Walkerton, Ontario. They house 300 milking cows in a clean and modern barn equipped with a 30-stall rotary milking parlor. Their youngest partner, Tyler Kuntz is a third-generation farmer who became more involved with the family farm operation after graduating from the University of Guelph in 2004. Tyler is also highly engaged in the community and loves introducing his passion for dairy production to anyone who wants to learn. Our veterinarians visit Ikendale Farm at least once a week to do herd health checks, and Tyler and his team set aside cows for final year veterinary students like me to palpate/ do physical exams on. Frequenting Tyler’s farm, it is easily noticeable that he’s got his operation down to a science. Let’s pick his brain, shall we?

Photo of dairy farmer with cowsHow did your interest in farming start? 
As you know, I was born and raised on a farm.  The interest started when I was a little boy.  I always found machinery, the animals and the crops we grew on our soil to be interesting.  I love being outside as well and being with dad on the farm, we were always outside.

Can you walk us through a typical day at the farm for you?
The best part about my job is the diverse things I will encounter every day.  Animals can be unpredictable, and it's like working at a hospital for cows some days, you never know what will happen next. (calves being born upside down, displaced abomasum, uterine torsion, battling new E. Coli bug, etc...)  At our farm also I need to be a good operator of large machinery, understand when to perform our next cropping move and, oh yeah, managing 10 employees can keep me busy some days as well.  A typical day for me is making sure all cows and employees are happy and trying to maximize production every day. No two days are the same.

How has Ikendale Farm changed through the years?
Ikendale Farms started as a smaller farm from grandpa and grandma's days, milking 20 cows and cropping 100 acres of land.  As the farm grew and technology improved in agriculture, my dad and uncle started farming and when I was a kid, milking 200 cows and cropping 1000 acres was normal.  Today 55 years later, my brother and I crop 2000 acres and milk 300 cows.  The key is to maintain an open dialogue between owners and to have a clear goal of the big picture.

What new insights have you brought/ want to bring to your dairy production?
In 55 years dairy farming has changed a lot. It is an industry where technology is booming. There are so many tools out there to help us with our production goals. (Robotic milkers, robotic calf feeders, GPS autosteer, computer heat detection on cows, self-propelled TMR wagons to feed, etc....)  The key is to keep up with the times but make sure that investment is making money.

Any advice for aspiring cow vets and dairy producers? What does a seasoned dairy farmer look for when working with a new graduate?
The only advice I would have for a new graduate wanting to be a veterinarian or a farmer is to gain experience in a well-managed dairy farm first, maybe a few years. And never stop learning, even though you have graduated always push yourself every year to be better at what you are doing.  I love doing farm tours of successful farms in Canada and the U.S.  When a new veterinary student comes into my farm, I want to hear a new idea or new approach on some management that we are doing if they do that I'm happy.