At some point during childhood, most farm kids dream of being a veterinarian and for some, that dream actually becomes a reality. For Dr. Carie Telgen, DVM, that dream started when she was 6 years old and today she is the co-owner and veterinarian of Battenkill Veterinary Bovine P.C. located in Greenwich, NY, which is about 40 miles northeast of Albany, NY. Some of you may have been lucky enough to meet Dr. Telgen as she is one of our amazing volunteer veterinarians at the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair. We asked Dr. Telgen to give us a little insight to her life as a veterinarian so we can all better understand and appreciate what veterinarians do every day to help dairy farmers across New York State.
Why did you become a veterinarian?
I grew up on a dairy farm, and I remember seeing my first Displaced Abomasum surgery that was performed by our veterinarian when I was about 6 years old. I was stuck to my dad’s side the entire time, captivated by what was going on. From that point on, I said that I wanted to become a veterinarian and perform these types of surgeries to help the animals when they are sick.
What education do you need to become a veterinarian?
To become a veterinarian, there are certain pre-requisites that you need such as Organic Chemistry, Physics, Genetics, etc. You can really have any undergraduate major you choose, as long as you fulfill the specific veterinary school pre-requisites. Once you have those completed, usually in 3-4 years, you can then apply to veterinary school. This is a 4-year degree and then you have to sit for the National Board exam, which is a 6-hour test. If you pass this, and all your veterinary classes, you then apply for your state license. Once you receive this license, THEN you can practice!!! If you chose to specialize, such as going on to be a Veterinary Surgeon, or Internal Medicine Specialist for example, you would need to have an additional 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency. Veterinary Medicine is becoming more and more specialized. There are veterinary cardiologists, oncologists, surgeons, behaviorists, and the list goes on. The neat thing about Veterinary Medicine, is that you are still a doctor and can practice after 4 years of school, which is a little different than human doctors, but if you want to specialize, you can!
What is a “typical” day look like for you?
I usually wake up around 5 or 5:30 and am on a farm by 7 or 8 in the morning, depending on the day. Most of my time on the farm is checking to see which cows are pregnant or not. During this time, I also have the opportunity to chat with the owner or herdsperson to see what else is happening on the dairy; if there are any concerns, questions or changes that I should be aware of. After we get done checking for pregnancies, I then check any sick cows that the herdsperson or owner has noticed over the last day or so. After I am finished at one farm, I then check in with the office to see if any other farmers have called in to let us know of a sick animal. One neat thing about veterinary medicine, is that cows don’t have to wait to see their doctor. If the farmer notices a cow that isn’t feeling well, she will be seen within a couple hours. Unlike human medicine where you may have to wait several days to several weeks to be seen. Cows get same day care, 365 days a year. Once any other sick cows are taken care of, I usually go back to the office and work on paperwork for the clients or the business.
How do you keep up to date with changes in your profession?
In order to maintain my license, I am required to take continuing education credits. Most veterinarians will attend various conferences and meetings to receive these credits. Cattle veterinarians are very fortunate in that we have a worldwide network made up of experts in every field of cattle veterinary medicine. Every year, there is a conference where many of these experts and practicing veterinarians come together, learn from each other and receive our continuing education credits.
Explain how you work alongside your clients every day?
As mentioned earlier, I am on the farm early in the morning and can spend up to several hours at one farm. The entire time I am there, is an opportunity to have open dialogue with the key people on the farm. We can talk about anything from how their children are doing to employee management, to milk quality to nutrition to new products or technologies that are available. As a veterinarian, my ultimate priority is the care of the cattle on the farm. Employee turnover, a change in what the cows are being fed, or even a death or sickness in the family are all factors that affect how the cows are being cared for, so it is imperative that we have open lines of communication with the clients. We are on most of these farms every other week or every week. With visits this frequent, it is easy to have a good pulse of what is happening on the dairy and how the animals are being cared for.
From your perspective, what is the biggest misconception in the agriculture industry today?
The biggest misconception is that farmers don’t care. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I would be hard pressed to find any other profession where someone works 365 days a year and puts their own needs and wants aside to make sure that the animals are fed, have a roof over their head, and are comfortable. As a daughter of a farmer, my dad never made it to any of my soccer, basketball or softball games until my very last year of high school. The games ALWAYS started during chore time and it just wasn’t an option. There are sacrifices that every family makes so that the animals are cared for. We didn’t get to open Christmas presents until the morning chores were done. We didn’t eat supper until 7 or 8 at night when the evening chores were done.
How do consumers impact your job and how does what you do everyday impact consumers?
Consumers impact my job more indirectly than directly. Consumers buy my clients’ products in the form of milk, butter, cheese and ice cream. If there is no market for my clients’ products, then my clients would be out of business and there would be no need for me to be a veterinarian. My role on the farm week in and week out is to make sure the products consumers are buying are safe, and the cows producing these products are well cared for. If there is any type of medicine found in any of the products shipped off the farm, it comes back on not only the farmer, but also on me as the veterinarian prescribing those medications. This is why all veterinarians and farmers take such care in making sure that the milk leaving the farm is truly safe for consumers and not contaminated in any way.
What is the biggest challenge that you have to overcome as a veterinarian?
One of the challenges of being a cattle veterinarian is how the industry is shifting as a whole. Most farmers these days have a college education and are constantly looking at ways to improve their business with different efficiencies and technologies. Long gone are the days of Dr. James Harriet. Many of the employees on the farm can do basic treatments of cattle. As a veterinarian, we are finding ourselves more and more in the consulting role of the dairy. It forces us to stay up to speed on the different regulations that agriculture is put under, as well as shift our skill set to better serve the client. We are still performing surgeries and checking for pregnancies, helping with difficult calvings, etc. But we are also trained to analyze, evaluate and problem solve. This is how many of us reach a diagnosis on a sick animal, but it is also applicable to other issues on the farm such as employee management, protocol development and overall herd health issues. Although shifting our skill set and utilizing our training in a different way is a challenge, it also is an opportunity to work more closely with our clients as an advisor and a member of the team that is working for the overall benefit of the client and his animals.
If you could tell consumers one thing about New York State agriculture, what would it be?
New York Agriculture is more than just dairy cattle. Wineries, Breweries, Apple production, egg production, pork production are all aspects of New York agriculture that make this state so diverse. Even within all these industries there are multiple different production systems that provide further diversity. This multitude of choices provides consumers from every background an opportunity to have access to a variety of products that are safe, affordable, and ultimately produced with the consumer in mind.