100 years of vet wisdom

It’s World Veterinary Day today, Apr. 29, 2017

Semi-retired vets look back, ahead at changing landscape, excerpt f/ Farmshine June 2015

VetsPhoto5202.jpgKITTANNING, Pa. — The future of animal care “comes down to how we look at animals in our culture. We have to accept that animals are useful to man and accept our role in protecting and fostering these animals in their service to man. Veterinary work takes compassion, determination and dedication. While the animals can’t speak to tell you what is wrong, they also can’t lie, so that frees you to see what they are ‘telling’ you,” observes Dr. Robert Lash of Kittaning, Pa.

Where would farming, food production, and our purpose-driven companionship with both our working animals and pets be without good veterinarians?

In 2015, I interviewed two semi-retiring veterinarians with 100 years of combined experience providing veterinary care for animals — large animals and small, working animals and pets, food animal and companions.

Dr. Lash — a man of 80 years — knew early in life that veterinary work was his calling.

“I was just three, and my grandmother had a lame chicken. I examined the bird and saw the green age-band was embedded,” he recalls. “I cut that band out for her, and the foot healed up just fine.”

So it began for Lash, and by 1963, he was starting his practice in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, first with large animals and gradually shifting into small animals as other large animal vets joined the practice.

For Lash’s first partner, Dr. ‘Gabby’ Durkac, the ‘light bulb’ went off at age 12. Raised on a farm with a few cows, one went down after calving. “The vet was called. He IV’d the cow and got her up and I was amazed,” Durkac recalls. “I thought: That’s what I want to do.”

During a spring 2015 visit, the two vets talked of “crazy hours” in those early days of the practice, of almost never having a night without emergencies. Their wives told of husbands nearly nodding off at the most inappropriate times.

Country vets earn their stripes and stars with not only their know-how but also their perseverance. Virtual energizer bunnies, they are.

The two men chuckled good-naturedly at the recollection of 5 a.m. milk fever calls as the start to many a morning, herd checks until lunch, clinic work in the afternoon and very often having to go back out for a midnight or 1 a.m. emergency call and thenagain at 5 or 6 a.m. to start over.

With calls coming in all the time, their practice grew fast. Both men observe how it has evolved with changes in the veterinary field and as farms are fewer and larger with more distance between. Even though the remaining farms are still family farms, they are different today.

“We have half as many farms and roughly the same number of cows in a 50-mile radius compared with the 70s and 80s. Today, producers take care of some of the things we used to get called for, like milk fever,” Durkac relates, adding that it has been rewarding to have worked with as many as three generations of families managing customer herds.

“We have become more consultants and less hands-on. That is the trend, giving advice on how to manage herd health,” Lash notes, explaining that the herd health programs they started years back have provided a more organized and proactive approach, and the newer generation of dairy managers are adept with knowledge not available in the old days.

“We even have producers who can handle a uterine torsion. They’ve learned how to roll the cow to deliver the calf,” Durkac adds. “Often today, we are called for a diagnosis and the farmers do the treatments.”

“But the emergencies do come,” Carolyn Lash observes. On the pet side, there are emergency clinics for after-hours care, but for the large animal side, her husband still takes those calls and gives advice when a large animal vet is not available at the clinic.

Biosecurity is among the challenges Lash sees on the horizon.

“This is a main concern, that of keeping transmissible diseases out of the herd,” he says, adding that today, “in general, herds are getting larger and more expertly managed.”

“They have to, to survive today,” Durkac adds. He sees the animal care side as a challenge due to organizations like PETA always looking for negative situations. “They go overboard with some of this. They must realize these are 1500 and 2000-lb animals. You don’t just pick them up and carry them.”

Lash agrees, but added that the attention to animal care has been a positive outcome. He sees how today’s advances in knowledge and technology are making things better for the animals and those who manage them.

It is a circle of continuous improvement.

As dairies expand and genetics improve — with genomic testing more affordable and able to identify animals that will be healthier and more productive — the challenge will be using the advances in herd management to keep up with the continually improving genetic potential of the cow.

Durkac observes how the decisions in animal care must often balance the science, the emotion and the economic realities of farming — to make decisions that are both good for the animal but also consider the economics farm families face in the cattle industry.

“As veterinarians, we look at the husbandry and working to keep animals healthy at all points of production,” he says.

Producers and their team members have to be willing to trust and share information. Today’s vets and nutritionists consult together about what they see as they observe the cows, according to Durkac.

Durkac notes that with bulls now rated on health traits, even immunity, some of his clients are using genomics more routinely. “It makes sense to use a tool that can tell you the strength and health and productivity of the animals when they are young. Some dairy farms are taking the top 5 to 10% of the herd and breeding them to good bulls and breeding the bottom percent to beef bulls for the beef market.”

While both docs had funny stories — like the time some cows got out of a pasture and into a local’s homegrown ‘wacky weed’ — the memories shared were a mix of the odd, the sad, the happy and the profound.

Most rewarding for Lash after all of these years is the appreciation of clients — both 2-legged and 4-legged. They told about “Andy,” a poodle that had a paralyzed rear leg back in the 1970s.

“We attempted decompression disc surgery, and it was successful, but he still had paralysis so we built a cart for the dog to pull itself around,” Durkac recalled. “The owner wasn’t able to handle that, so we kept the dog and six months later he finally started to walk. It was right around Christmas time, so he was a gift of sorts back to his original owners.”

To aspiring vets, Lash advises the importance of having a good mentor and joining a practice that is accepting associates, if possible. In rural communities of the West, Durkac still reads of young vets starting out — much like he and Dr. Lash — growing their own practices.

“Personality is also big,” adds Durkac. “As a vet, you don’t just work with the animals, you have to be able to work with people every day.”

For anyone considering a future as a veterinarian, both docs advise getting some farm experience before applying to vet school. “Then follow your instincts once you get that farm experience and see all phases of veterinary medicine,” Lash suggests.

To be partners for 45 years, you have to be able to get along and to challenge each other, the two men agree. For Lash and Durkac, they were able to work separately in the practice and also consult together on tough cases.

To be a vet, you have to love animals.

But to be a vet, that love of animals has to know some boundaries.

Both men related some of their toughest calls and how being born into and raised in farm animal culture helped give them perspective.

“The toughest thing to face is when an animal is in trouble, and needs extreme therapy or surgery, and the owner is in the financial situation not to be able to afford to do it, so you find alternative ways to work with that animal,” Durkac relates.

Ranking high on the reward list is delivering a live calf, or any animal. For Lash, the vivid memory was getting a call on a cow with milk fever down in the pasture trying to deliver her calf.

“I treated the milk fever first and then set to deliver the calf, but a giant thunderstorm was underway and that cow was crosswise in a hollow that filled up with water behind her and started cascading over us like she was a dam,” he said shaking his head. “We delivered the calf and got her up. I guess I was just so focused on what I was doing, I didn’t realize how much water was building up behind us. We were lucky to survive that… just another day in the field.”

The ones that don’t end well — even after working up a sweat in zero-degree weather — they also stick with a vet. Durkac recalled a heifer in labor at a farm on a zero-degree night. The farmer’s son had worked with the cow for six hours before calling the vet.

“I got there and the heifer couldn’t get up. The calf was too big for the heifer, so my objective was to save the heifer,” he recalled. “I started working on my knees. There were no lights in the barn, and I remember working so hard I was sweating and looked up as the farmer held the flashlight to see ice crystals above me. I came home to find a foal behind the pony Dr. Lash had given me. We named her Zero and she was around for a while.”

For the dairies Durkac has served over the past 45 years, the calm demeanor and knowing ways will be missed. “You can’t beat him,” said Lara Wilson Shields of fifth generation Le-Ara Holsteins, where her parents Dick and Shirley are the third generation. “Gabby has been our herd vet since I was six. He has saved cows here so many times, including the cow on our sign who lived to be over 18 years old.”

Not only was ‘Sprite’ the 27th among a handful of cows to go 6E in the Holstein breed and with over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk, she was Lara’s special cow. “I bought her when she was three days old. Doc took good care of her, and when she went on her own, we got a sympathy card from the office,” she says.

As Lara puts it, good country vets are reliable. “Gabby has gotten me out of a jam many times. He has been a savior.”

Both Durkac and Lash keep a hand in veterinary medicine and have local farms of their own — with livestock, of course. Lash reduced his time at the clinic to half days and looks forward to having more time on his tractor at the farm. While none of his four children went into veterinary practice, Ericka has delivered lambs at the farm a time or two when her parents were away.

Durkac does a handful of herd checks once a week and some consulting. While he has developed close relationships with clients, who are “like second family,” he is looking forward to traveling with wife Rosemary to Washington, D.C., Colorado and Illinois, where he has children and a grandson.

 

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Dr. Robert Lash (left) and wife Carolyn and Dr. Gabriel “Gabby” Durkac, flanked by wife Rosemary (left) and dairywoman Lara Wilson Shields at the Wilson family’s 5th generation Le-Ara Holsteins, Worthington, Pa. Lara credits the docs for the care their Holstein “Sprite” received for over 18 years. Pictured on the farm sign, Sprite was the 27th cow to go 6E in the Holstein breed. “Gabby has been the vet taking care of our cows since I was six years old. He is the best,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Robert Lash (left) is flanked by daughter Ericka and wife Carolyn and Dr. Gabriel “Gabby” Durkac by wife Rosemary (left) and dairywoman Lara Wilson at the Wilson family’s 5th generation Le-Ara Holsteins, Worthington, Pa. Lara credits the docs for the care their Holstein “Sprite” received for over 18 years. Pictured on the farm sign, Sprite was the 27th cow to go 6E in the Holstein breed. “Gabby has been the vet taking care of our cows since I was six years old. He is the best,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

A world without cattle?

Ag Moos "Growing the Land"

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel…

View original post 1,062 more words

Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

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While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

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Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

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Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

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But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

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One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

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Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

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For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
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“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

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(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx