Summer time in Ontario is a glorious thing. Ever since I was a kid, all things animal related have engulfed my summers. My summers have been filled with working at my mom’s small animal hospital, horse shows, working with cattle on my family’s farm, camping with my dogs and all things in between. Over the summers during my undergrad, I worked on a number of dairy research projects through the Department of Population Medicine at OVC. Aside from all of the practical, hands on experience I gained from these projects, one thing I absolutely loved was spending days driving all over rural Ontario on our way to and from dairy farms.
I loved watching the farmers in the field planting crops, cutting hay or spraying a bright yellow field of canola. I loved driving over hilltops at dawn to see the cows still sleeping in the pasture below. I loved driving by the same fields and watching the corn grow taller and the wheat change from green to gold over the course of the summer. As the summer wore on, it soon became evident to me that what I had seen on my drive to a farm was very important information to the farmers we were working with. Farmers love to hear about where you saw hay being cut or what cornfields were up or where you saw water standing in the fields. Some of these conversations may seem like small talk (and sometimes lead to tangents about the summer of ‘88 where it didn’t rain a drop for four months) but they do offer valuable insight into how these farms are managed and can give you a heads-up on what problems they may face in the months ahead.
Planting time, weather conditions and crop maturity at harvest all affect feed quality. For dairy cows, if you have poor quality feed then you have poor milk production. As a dairy vet, you are one of the people who these farmers will call when their production drops. It’s up to you to start tying together all of the pieces of the puzzle and work with the farmers to solve the problem. Paying attention to the details of all aspect of a dairy operation can really help you be one step ahead in helping your clients.
I’m glad that over the past few summers, I have been able to refine the skill of “talking to dairy farmers” and I’m excited apply it again this summer on my externship! I’m looking forward to getting back in the truck and exploring a different part of Ontario as I learn more about veterinary medicine!