Archived News

Bovine Experience Program Introduces Veterinary Students to Food Animal Practice

July 31, 2006

Seth Stammerjohan, Class of 2008, pursued his training in food animal medicine this summer--right on the farm. He worked alongside private practitioners at Westside Veterinary Services in Los Banos and in Oklahoma as part of his second season in the school's Early Veterinary Student Bovine Experience Program.

This School of Veterinary Medicine mentoring project aims to increase the number of students choosing careers working with cattle and other livestock. Practical experience and role models form the backbone of this program.

Seth recalls, "It was an excellent opportunity to network and interact with different individuals within the veterinary profession and the dairy and beef industries, along with being exposed to the numerous management and operating systems used in beef and milk production in California."

Though Seth is already well-acquainted with concepts in food animal medicine, he says that through the bovine experience program he has learned, "There is more breadth [to the profession], and there are niches that a veterinarian can expand into or selectively choose to service," he explains. He also developed palpation skills and increased his understanding of various aspects of cattle health management such as vaccine protocols and management of cows as they transition from the dry-off period into lactation.

Seth also echoes what other students say about how the practical experience brings their studies alive. "EVSBEP is supplementing much of the material, material that is covered in our curriculum but cannot be reinforced in the same manner as actually being on a dairy or beef ranch and witnessing--or, in many cases--assisting in the implementation of these practices."

The dairy business and dairy medicine brand-new to Erin Updegrove, Class of 2010, but she willingly began her days at 5:30 a.m. at the Art Lafranchi dairy in Santa Rosa. She says, "This is my first dairy cattle experience, unless you count halter training and showing a heifer at UC Davis. It's my second cattle experience (I recently worked on a 30,000 head beef cattle ranch in Brazil for two months).  I'm currently most interested in mixed animal medicine, as well as work in international and rural/underserved communities." Rural veterinarians are in demand in California, hub of the nation's dairy industry.  

ExamBrad Smith is director of the teaching hospital and the Early Veterinary Student Bovine Experience Program. In his written evaluation of the program, he states, "It has so far succeeded in attracting students with no prior food animal experience, and appears to be a useful model for increasing both the preparation of veterinary students and the number of students choosing food animal medicine." In the report, Smith also notes the willingness of dairy veterinarians to step forward as role models in a field that pays well and provides interesting challenges and rewards for practitioners. 

While the impact of the program in terms of numbers is still unknown, veterinary mentors report that with the practical experience gained, graduates are much better prepared to take on the duties of a food animal practice. In addition, Dr. Smith notes a positive effect on diversity in food animal practice; the program has included 70% women and many students from under-represented minorities. One of the first participants in the program several years ago, Sabino Herrera, became a dairy practitioner in Hilmar, California--and now mentors veterinary students himself in the bovine experience program.

Scholarships help support students during the five-week sessions. Pfizer Animal Health is a major sponsor.

Student enthusiasm appears high among participants. Erin states, "So far, I've loved almost everything I've done, so I think limiting myself is going to be the hard part!" 

Kayla Winn spent five weeks at the Heritage Dairy in Dixon and sends these comments on her experience. "I've been experiencing different aspects of the dairy and realized that herd management is very different from individual animal medicine. I've become aware of the need to balance animal health and welfare with keeping costs down. I'm considering changing my track to large animal to incorporate my interest in food animal medicine. Long term, I'd like to travel to Third World countries to help improve livestock health. EVSBEP is a great program, and I plan to do it again next summer!"

Seth concludes, "EVSBEP has been a very rewarding experience. The opportunities have not only exposed me to the larger scope of food animal medicine, but strengthened my ambition of someday entering this field of practice."

Lynn Narlesky, Dean's Office, (530) 752-5257