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Amanda Spector '08 - Senior Project
Out on Rounds
Explorations with Large Animal Veterinarians in Maine and Québec
Amanda Spector came to COA with a deep love of animals - and a keen observational eye. She originally thought she'd study conservation biology, but came to be so fascinated by the relationships between animal owners and their animals, that she decided to become a veterinarian. For her senior project, she decided to preview her chosen field by traveling with a series of large animal veterinarians for six weeks in Maine and seven weeks in Quebec as a participant-observer, interviewing, observing and assisting the veterinarians. The result was a book-length study that describes the health issues of cows and horses, but mostly focuses on the devoted lives of the people who care for them.
A selection of Amanda Spector's essays about veterinarians and the people they cared for appeared in the Fall 2008 COA Magazine. The following is an excerpt from her magazine article. To read more, visit page 30: http://coa.edu/assets/coa_magazine/coamagazine_fall08.pdf
So you want to be a veterinarian?
The United States is currently facing a shortage of food animal veterinarians. In comparison to small or companion animal medicine, the career of a large animal vet is non-lucrative, dangerous, exhausting and apparently unappealing to most recent graduates of veterinary schools. I wanted to understand the challenges of the profession on an intimate, human level and from social, biological, economic and historical perspectives. At College of the Atlantic, we call this integrated approach to understanding and problem-solving human ecology, the subject of our degree."
These thirteen weeks, from which the following vignettes are excerpted, were a journey of awkward learning, acting and assimilation; of internships and interviews, often with the challenges of translation; of excitement and boredom; of death, birth, blood, milk and manure. The links are the routines of the veterinarians, their clients and their animals. The ring of a cell phone. The banter of a regular visit or the tension of a late-night emergency. The rhythmic chewing of cud. At the end of each call, the quick boot-scrubbing and leftover drips of soapy water. And then, always, the road rolling away behind, under the wheels. Bobby Veinote
On a warm day in early September, Simon pulls his truck into the driveway by the old peeling sign for Silver Mountain Farm. His new associate, Dr. Laura Leighton, is with us today. In the dooryard, invasive Japanese knotweed swarms around rusting farm equipment. Inside the milk room there are two large milk tanks, milking equipment, cow figurines, framed photographs, certificates, newspaper articles and plaques with interesting proverbs, including "Cows may come and cows may go but the bull here goes on forever" and "As you go through life, 2 rules never bend-never whittle toward yourself or pee against the wind." The place has a feeling of the past about it, as tangible as a layer of dust or cobwebs lurking in corners.
Dr. Simon Alexander of Bangor, Maine jokes that working for Bobby Veinote is his penance. Bobby Veinote is a seventy-six-year-old dairy farmer in Newburgh, Maine, one of a few old-timers who just won't quit. He owns thirty-five cows with names that still go out to pasture every day during the summer and come into the run-down tie-stall barn at night. Bobby loses money by calling the vet for simple things he ought to be able to handle himself-milk fever, ketosis, dehorning. According to Simon, Bobby has "used every vet who did cow work in the Newburgh area" but always had fallings-out with them. When Simon responded to Bobby's emergency call one day, he felt sorry for him and decided to do his vet work. But Bobby has a different take; by employing Simon, he is helping him to start up his new vet practice.
Bobby bought the land that is now Silver Mountain Farm in the 1950s: one hundred twenty acres of woods for one hundred twenty dollars. He built up a herd from two Jersey cows and began breeding registered Holsteins with one of his two sons. His boy tragically drowned in the 1980s and "when the son died, the heart went out of Bobby Veinote," says Simon. "He's still sort of farming for his son."
Simon also tells me that "some of the things on the Bobby Veinote farm are done the same way they
Dr. Simon Alexander with clients in Maine's Aroostook County.
Bobby Veinote is bent over and wiry but even when he straightens up he is only slightly taller than I am. His belt is hitched tight to hold his pants on his waist and he wears large shabby shoes. One of Bobby's knobby fingers is wrapped in medical tape. His face is marked by eye wrinkles and a pointy chin.
"Hello, Bobby!" calls Simon.
Bobby greets him in return. "So, you've got some women along with you today, aren't you lucky. Two of 'em!"
Simon introduces us and explains briefly what I'm doing for my project.
Bobby says, "That's how you learn a lot, riding with a vet, I tell you. Ain't no way better than that. You'll learn more riding with a vet than you've ever learned from your books."
Simon agrees. "That's right, I keep telling her, 'Don't let your schooling get in the way of your education.' How's your cow?"
"She's not dead. She's not alive, either."
"I gathered that."
We walk on a tired green carpet from the milk room into the barn. Bobby moves surprisingly quickly. The cows' stalls stretch down each side of a wide aisle, on the other side of the gutters. Although the barn is dilapidated, fresh cedar dust has just been laid down on top of rubber stall mats, and clean, sleek cows with well-built bodies are chewing their cud contentedly. Each cow is attached to the front poles of the stalls by a collar and chain, long enough for her to lie down comfortably; this is a tie-stall barn. The cow we have come to see has a raging temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit-normal is around 101-and she probably has toxic mastitis in one infected quarter of her udder. Bobby gave her injections of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drugs last night, and Simon says these treatments may have saved her life. The cow looks remarkably well despite her high fever and even clambers to her feet when Laura puts her halter on. Laura places the IV and starts the fluids, which are supportive therapy: "the cow has to basically live or die on her own," says Simon.
Back in the milk room, two feed company representatives have arrived to collect payment from Bobby for helping him seed one of his fields. After Simon introduces Laura, the conversation turns to the gender of veterinarians.
"Women are better vets," says Bobby. "I've known that for a hundred years."
"At least a hundred," Simon says.
Bobby smiles slightly. "At least."
Bobby Veinote will only hire female farm hands, for he believes women have a special touch with cows and make them produce more milk. Bobby and Simon agree that women do a better job than men at raising calves. I ask Bobby to help me with my project and he agrees to let me come back and interview him. "Let me give you my phone number," I say.
"Oh, it's not every day that happens, a girl gives me her number!"
"Well, I'll write down yours first," I say. We all laugh.
Bobby shows me some photos of his registered Holsteins in his cluttered office. Some are advertised for astronomical prices in shiny catalogs. "The place doesn't look like much now," he tells me. "I had a boy die a few years back." Bobby encourages me to go and take a look at his bull. Most larger dairy farms don't have bulls because they are hard to manage and because artificial insemination makes them superfluous, but Bobby has a huge one who lives in a spacious box stall in the corner of the barn. The bull's hooves are curving up, but he is portly and his coat gleams. He probably weighs over a ton. I tell Bobby, "You've got one hell of a bull out there."
Bobby pays his vet bill in cash, ridding himself of his previous debt and paying extra so he has a seven dollar credit. Meanwhile, Laura and I look closely at the framed photographs and certificates on the far wall of the milk room. A live cricket is stuck under the glass of one frame. In another frame, a certificate from 1980 states that Dennis Veinote has successfully completed a course in artificial insemination - that must have been Bobby's late son. There is a crack in the glass that covers this certificate, this piece of history. On the windowsill below, a cow figurine is overturned. I set it upright.