My first few weeks on large animal calls at Heartland have flown by! Being out on farms and traversing the country roads has been eye-opening and a very welcome change from studying at my desk. There’s something special about the rural life, and I am so grateful to be spending time learning from vets, farmers, and of course the animals themselves. I wasn’t sure what to expect in my new role as an externship student, so for those who are curious, here’s a summary of some common and important calls one might see on large animal duty.
Herd Health: in order for a dairy herd to remain healthy and produce a steady supply of milk, a few important management factors have to be successful. The cows must be healthy, of course, as disease can compromise welfare and production and results in withholding milk to avoid drug residues while cows are being treated. Cows must also become pregnant in a reasonable time to help ensure a steady supply of milk so that the farm’s quota is filled year-round. Calves need a lot of attention as well, as they are the future of the farm. Finally, there are regular reports to interpret which tell the farmers where their business sits in terms of cow health, reproduction, and milk components such as protein and butterfat (important in terms of calculating milk production). Herd health vets help in each of these aspects by designing vaccination protocols, diagnosing sick animals, advising on calf care, pregnancy diagnosing, interpreting reports, and much more! Another important role for the herd health vet involves training and coaching on protocols to meet Ontario guidelines which every dairy farmer must meet.
Food Animal emergencies: Heartland’s practice includes Grey, Bruce and Huron counties, which comprise one of Ontario’s hot spots for dairy herds. Because business is so demanding, there are vets on staff who deal primarily with emergency calls that come in each day. I find these days particularly fun, because one never knows what to expect! There are calls to a variety of species, for many different problems. I have been lucky to observe and even assist with several procedures, including abomasopexies (surgery to fix a twisted stomach), caesarean sections, suturing wounds, calvings, and a prolapsed uterus. Some of the most memorable moments on the road with the emergency vets include a very large sow who didn’t like her medicine, a twin caesarean section, and clambering up a homemade ladder to the top of a bank barn to treat a foal.
Equine: I have also enjoyed a day or two each week with Heartland’s equine veterinarians. Spring is breeding season for horses, so those days start early in the morning with pregnancy checks and ultrasound exams to determine when mares are ready to be bred. Horses also need periodic veterinary care, which includes a yearly physical exam, vaccines, and dental flotation. Common diseases we vaccinate horses for include rabies, tetanus, and mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern, Western and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. Dental flotation is important because horses’ jaws are built such that their teeth wear unevenly, which results in sharp points and irregularities. These are painful and can prevent a horse from eating properly and interfere with performance. Sometimes horses need emergency medical care as well; some cases I observed lately include heaves (similar to COPD in humans), lameness, and a deep laceration in a horse’s neck.
I’m very grateful for the chance to be out on the road with these excellent veterinarians. Their dedication to their cases and willingness to teach have made my time in large animal very educational, and endlessly fun!