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Herd Mentality

UI’s statewide approach to veterinary education teaches students modern techniques that focus on overall herd health and working closely with industry

On an early spring day at the Wilson Creek feedlot south of Caldwell, two students in the Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah Veterinary Medical Education Program based at Washington State University are working with University of Idaho veterinary professor Dr. Jim England.

The day’s goal focuses on assessing the health of yearlings and giving vaccines. The pace is fast. With hundreds of cattle to work, the students take the lead and learn the economy of scale that is modern agriculture.

As Utah State University vet student and UI alumna Cat Van Dusen vaccinates animals coming through the squeeze chute, fellow Utah State fourth-year vet student Dan Harmer installs ear tags and inserts capsules into the steers’ ears.

They also screen the animals for pink eye or other maladies and, if warranted, give them antibiotic shots.

As part of the day’s training, England selects a steer to demonstrate field treatment for aggravated cases of pink eye, then advises the students’ efforts to perform the procedure themselves. Within two hours, the veterinary crew and feedlot workers run 138 animals through the chute — approximately one a minute.

On that day, the students were participating in a teaching block based at the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center near Caldwell. The blocks immerse them in the practical experiences they will encounter as veterinarians. Their training corresponds with a shift in the University of Idaho’s participation in the regional veterinary education program from a place-based program at Caine to one with a more statewide approach.

Veterinary students and professor at feedlot
UI veterinary professor Dr. Jim England, from left, students Dan Harmer and Cat Van Dusen pose at the Wilson Creek Feedlot near Caldwell.

Van Dusen, who earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science from UI in 2012, loved the educational opportunities she gained at Caine, both as an undergraduate intern there and as a vet student in food animal, small ruminants and cow-calf training blocks.

The modern veterinary practitioner who treats food animals, however, more often than not works mostly independently, away from a central office and close to large-scale livestock operations.

It is that reality that led UI administrators to shift away from continuing to operate the Caine Center. This past summer, the center ended its 40-year run as the base of Idaho’s contribution to the regional veterinary medical education program.

The decision coincided with a low point in research activity and requests for diagnostic services, and the need to refill faculty vacancies, said Caine Center administrator Mark McGuire, who also serves as the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station interim director and past head of UI’s Animal and Veterinary Science Department in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Instead, UI will maintain a faculty position in Caldwell but relocate new faculty veterinarian positions to the Magic Valley, Salmon and Moscow to better serve livestock production centers. The Magic Valley — mainly Jerome and Twin Falls counties — has emerged as the launch pad for the Idaho dairy industry’s rapid rise to No. 3 nationally in milk production.

“We want to give students the best opportunity to gain experience in food animal medicine as it is practiced today,” McGuire said.

With hundreds of thousands of dairy cows concentrated in the Magic Valley, often on dairies milking 5,000 cows or more, veterinarians focus less on individual animals and more on herd health.

The same is true for Idaho’s beef and sheep operations. Veterinarians in independent practices seldom visit large-scale sheep operations, feedlots or dairies to treat an individual animal. Most of that treatment is performed by the workers who are directly involved with feeding or caring for the animals.

Veterinary medicine has changed, too, so that cost efficiencies in animal testing mean that diagnostic services are centralized.

Veterinary student with cow
Veterinary student Cat Van Dusen works with a cow at the Wilson Creek Feedlot near Caldwell.

Decline in animal health research projects based at the Caine Center, which was dedicated to advance veterinary education in 1977, opened the door to relocating faculty. And that allowed new strategies to prepare future vets to expand statewide.

England, who joined the UI faculty in 1995 as Caine Center director, said the center’s mission was always focused on connecting students with livestock producers. 

The biggest hurdle with the center’s closure will be connecting cattle and sheep producers to give vet students vital, real-world experience. The Caine Center’s clinical and diagnostic services helped make those connections.

“An advantage, if they can make it work, is getting students into the dairy center,” England said. He referred to both the Magic Valley’s geographic status as the center of Idaho’s dairy industry and to UI’s goal of establishing a large research dairy there. “And if they could designate UI faculty as herd veterinarians, it could be a tremendous advantage.”

Veterinary student with cow
Veterinary student Cat Van Dusen and professor Dr. Jim England work with a cow.

Article by Bill Loftus, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

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University Communications and Marketing

Phone: 208-885-6291

Fax: 208-885-5841

Email: uinews@uidaho.edu

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