Last year, March 2019, I had scraped enough money together to attend a continuing education conference. This was quite a relief for a couple reasons. When you enter the workforce as a veterinarian, one of the things that you expect to see in your job offers is reimbursement for your continuing education, or your “CE”. Not having it in your offer package is uncommon, and you should negotiate if it’s lacking. One of the things I was cautioned about when started my own practice was that I would soon find out how expensive CE is without a boss footing the bill. Without getting enough CE credits, you can’t renew your medical license, and you can’t practice. The other obstacle I was anticipating was that while small animal conferences are a dime a dozen, it could be harder for me to find the type of CE that applies to my practice. So, you can imagine how happy, proud, and excited I was when three months in to owning my own practice, I was able to attend a conference. I polled my existing clients and asked them, what do you wish your vet knew more about? The answer was almost unanimous: alpaca medicine. So, I flew out to the International Camelid Health Conference in Oregon. It was just as amazing an opportunity as I hoped it would be.
This year, in 2020, I took a similar strategy. I asked my clients, what do you want? Again, the answer was clear: we want to raise more cattle. So, first thing’s first… I bought a mobile cow chute for safe restraint, then I became a member of the AABP (American Assoc of Bovine Practitioners) and registered for their recent grad conference (anyone less than 7 years out of school). There are a lot of things I want to share about my trip and what I learned at the conference. I remember that last year, my alpaca clients really enjoyed hearing exactly what topics we were discussing, and in fact, some of my lecture notes went right to them to read. Knowledge is power, right? And I truly believe that as a veterinarian, one of my roles is to pass on as much information as you could possibly want.
First and foremost, this time I elected to get to Ohio by Amtrak train. What a cool way to travel! I caught up on a bunch of paperwork, made phone calls, watched Netflix, did my finances… and watched the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside roll past. When I got to Ohio, one of the things that I noticed that was different about this conference was that AABP got us all in the same hotel. It was a NICE one, and somehow they made it pretty dang cheap. Well played, folks! That can’t possibly be the regular rate for that place. I appreciate the effort made to get us all closer. Every lunch hour, we had a hot lunch (really, a unicorn finding in the world of medical conferences) and immediately following the cessation of lectures every night, we got a hot dinner and dessert. I found a new love – Buckeye Pie. We were offered a truly generous amount of drink tickets every night. Talk about luxury treatment. I have never felt so well-fed in my life.
Our first day of lectures, it was all about self-care. We were lectured on how to build confidence in our skills, how to communicate successfully, how to seek mentorship and build a network of support, how to identify and cope with imposter syndrome, and how to stay mindful of your thoughts and feelings. We also got a full hour on how to adjust your posture while driving, how to stretch before doing strenuous farm work, healthy sleep habits, keeping your back healthy while operating all day, etc. What a great way to emphasize overall health to a group of people who classically abuse themselves, mind and body.
Then, we really got into the nuts and bolts of it. In the dairy room, the lectures were on mineral disorders, appropriate ventilation for calf barns, supporting lactation during conception, metritis updates, nutrition updates, and ketosis. In the beef room, the lectures covered lameness therapy, low-stress handling and natural cattle behavior, picking the right bull for your ladies for easy calving, new diagnostic options at labs, updates on vaccination programs, and much more. In the clinical skills department, we had two different hours on C-section approaches, strategies for teat health, regional limb perfusion, vaginal/uterine prolapse repairs, and more. In total, it was over 15 hours of education.
Between lectures, vets were gathering in groups and sharing the topics being discussed during their every-day visits to cattle farms. Their farming clients are talking about soil health and runoff, utilizing as much waste as possible from the crop ag, converting manure to energy, and making sure all staff are trained and upholding animal caretaking protocols. These are things that American farmers have been discussing, pouring money into, and acting upon for well over a hundred years. After all, regenerative agriculture is being discussed in American history as far back as the mid 1800s. Unfortunately, today’s media is not kind to our American farmers, despite their consistent history of being the most proactive industry in our nation when it comes to lowering the carbon footprint, limiting waste, and preserving land. People quietly working hard is never a sexy story.
Our last lecture of the conference was given by Dr. Hake, and it focused on the problems farmers and veterinarians are having when they try to reach out to the general public and show them what’s happening on their farm. It seems that the more accessible and open we are, the more we are receiving threats, experiencing violent acts, or finding ourselves on the butt-end of orchestrated plans to defame our operations. Her message was clear: while we do have to protect ourselves and our animals, we have more of a duty than ever before to stay transparent. We owe it to the consumers to let you into our lives, to show you what we’re working on this week for environmental sustainability, or next week on calf handling, or how we write animal caretaking protocols. She lays out a specific and detailed approach on how to help your farm clients put their philosophy into words, onto paper, and how to train it into those who are handling their animals.
From the delicious meals, to the emphasis on mental and physical self care, to the lectures on the latest and greatest in medicine and surgery, to the conversations shared over coffee and beers about animal welfare and environmental stewardship, I left with the warm fuzzy feeling of someone who is so proud to be a part of all of this. I called my good friend Dr. Dauten on the trip home to fill her in, and I remember saying “I’m just surprised at how incredibly progressive everything was.” “Of course,” she said, “we’ve always been this way.”
Overall, I want to make sure I’m sharing my experience at this conference for anyone who feels like reading this. I hear a lot of passing comments from family and friends about how they’re “not sure about that cattle farming stuff” and it feels like an insult to all my education. And if you’re not sure about something, what should you do? You should ask about it. Ask someone who’s involved in these conversations, someone who is making it their business, literally. Ask someone who is writing up the farm philosophy, who is receiving EPA guidance, who is updating their animal handling protocols yearly, who is asking third-party welfare agencies to perform random audits. Don’t let yourself waffle in obscurity, falling prey to whatever emotional manipulation and fear pandering pops up on your social media feed. Send a message to your closest farmer and ask the question. She may have you swing by.