Its a balmy -10C outside today as I write this and think fondly back on my last week. I drove out to Calgary to work at Veterinary Agri-Health Services (VAHS), a practice that does a lot of feedlot work. They also service cow/calf operations. It was below -20C almost every day–what a way to kick off the year!
It is not the best time for cattle work in Canada–a little too early for calving season which is usually in the early spring and can be quite busy. So my mornings at the practice were spent in the offices either helping with drug orders or studying. I sat in on a webinar about a new vaccine in Canada, attended a pathology presentation for feedlot workers, and listened to a presentation on Johnes disease in beef cattle from a previous summer student. I really enjoyed the discussion about that topic.
This practice is completely ‘ambulatory’ which means that farmers/producers will call the practice and the vet drives out to their farm (or feedlot) with all the equipment they need. All the exams, treatment, and surgery the vets do happen on the farm. So each afternoon I hopped in the truck with a vet and we headed out.
I worked with a couple of female vets this week. I really appreciated this experience as it allowed some conversation about how to survive as a female in the world of large animal vetting and agriculture. We discussed confidence, work/life balance, how to protect your body from breaking down, and how to pee when you haven’t seen a washroom in 100+km…
Feedlot vets do a lot of post mortems (autopsies); while this might sound a bit morbid to some of you I actually quite enjoy them. The colloquial term a lot of vets use is ‘cutting deads’. It is very exciting to be able to open up an animal and look at 1 or 2 organs and diagnose why the animal died. We did post mortems everyday– they aren’t easy work but it will keep you warm outside! Its not the safest work either—when you can’t feel your hands and your standing on ice—it just takes a few tries to learn some of the tricks! At the beginning of the week I struggled with finding where to put my knife and remembering all my respiratory pathology from first year–by the end of the week I felt a lot more confident about what I was doing and what I was seeing. But I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot more practice with this.
Twice this week we looked at some cattle for export. This means that they are being transported across the border from Canada to the United States before they are slaughtered. This involves walking the pens and looking at the animals– and holding back any animals that look sick or have sore feet/legs and who would not transport well.
We got asked to check out a cow on a feedlot that had been acting a bit weird–when we got there the cow had neurological signs. There is a lot of things that can cause a cow to have neurological problems. We often don’t investigate these problems in cattle the same way we would in small animals — with x-rays, CT scans, and diagnostics. Sometimes you can figure out what is going on in cattle but it is quite hard.
On the Thursday the vet and I went out to a large feedlot where they had two bloat surgeries for us to do. Depending on what cows are eating sometimes their stomachs can fill up with gas or bubbles and become really bloated! This can actually be lethal for a cow if the problem isn’t discovered and treated and prevented. If you are interested, this is a really good article from Alberta Agriculture about bloat. The vet did the first bloat surgery and then I did the second one. We were in a shed and there was a heat lamp but it was still so cold! Loosing feeling in your fingers, freezing suture, and frozen blood on the suture is a whole new level of difficulty. Very simply speaking, a bloat surgery puts a hole from the stomach of the cow to the outside world so they can safely release gas!
This was a great placement! Despite it being cold and a little slow I felt that I gained a lot of knowledge (or topics to study up on) about the Canadian cattle industry and common diseases in feedlots. I appreciated a chat I had about being a practice owner and what that could look like–this is something I have always aspired to! Lastly, and not related to cattle…. I now know which little town to stop in and find the best peanut butter pie on the prairies!
Thanks again to all the wonderful vets and techs at VAHS!!
Thanks for sharing your experience! This was a super cool read. Did you have the chance to work with Dr. Cody Creelman while doing this (I believe he’s in Alberta & with VAHS?
Hey! He does work there. Unfortunately Jan is not the busiest time of the year for beef cattle work. We hung out in the office but I didn’t go to any farm calls with him.
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