It’s been at least four or five years since I’ve been up to the vet school at IowaState. It’s a bit of a homecoming to go up there as I spent six years in undergrad there getting a B.S. in zoology and then a B.A. in journalism/science writing. And in the span of several years since my last visit, my how things have changed!

Faces at the vet school

Jan Shearer, DVM, MS and Pat Gorden, DVM, gave me a tour of the new ISU dairy

There’s no doubt, my alma mater is an AG SCHOOL. And I am tickled pink to see all of the new additions to the existing stellar food animal faculty at the veterinary college. I spent two days this week of unseasonably cool July weather and had the chance to visit with Drs. Jesse Goff, Don Draper, Danelle Bickett-Weddle, Jim Roth, Scott Hurd (out at the Story County Fair where his kids were showing horses, no less), Jan Shearer, Pat Gorden, Paul Plummer, Kelly Still, Suzanne Millman (associate professor of animal welfare – stay tuned for information on what’s going on in that arena), Jim McKean, ISU vet college dean John Thomson and vet school communications guru Tracy Raef. I missed a few, notably Terry Engelken, new hire Grant Dewell and Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine Chair Pat Halbur (whom I am told is responsible for much of this food animal growth) who were out, but I think I did pretty well considering my short time there!

New facilities

Calan Gate electronic feeders for research trials can be lifted up and out of the way when not in use.

I had two highlights of the visit (well, aside from watching Hurd’s kids ride their horses at the county fair and actually trying for the first time a deep-fried Snickers) – Plummer’s tour of the new Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center facilities, which include some awesome and sophisticated food animal facilities, and a tour with Gorden and Shearer of the new ISU dairy farm (see slide show). The dairy is an awesome facility milking approximately 350 cows the six dairy breeds, Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, and Guernsey), and it is open 24/7 to visitors – it is a wonderfully transparent example of a modern dairy facility.

What’s so great about the dairy is that it is as close to a real dairy situation as veterinary students can get without going out to a commercial dairy. Cows are calved, calves are raised, heifers are bred and become part of the milking herd in a double-12 parlor. In addition, the research capabilities are endless from the feeding trials using Calan Gate electronic feeding stations (that lift up and out of the way when not in use), sophisticated milking data recorders, electronic sort gates, pain studies with calves for dehorning/castration, wireless internet and video camera abilities and more.

Baby calves are raised indoors in individual hutches that incude individual ventilation systems to keep air moving.

We were privileged to run into ISU’s veterinarian for the dairy, Bruce Leuschen and a group of students. Gorden explained that currently all students are required to do a food animal rotation, no matter their practice goals. Two of the students said they were primarily small-animal focused, but the beauty in this strategy is that those small animal veterinarians – who come in contact with our day-to-day suburban and urban consumers – will have an appreciation for our modern food animal production systems. These students said they were learning a lot and enjoying the experience at the dairy.

Cardinal-and-gold meets “Big Red”

Pedometer-like devices are being used by welfare expert Suzanne Millman, BSc, PhD, to study pain associated with dehorning and castration of calves.

I admit, when I went to school at ISU and Nebraska was coming to town, we pretty much resigned ourselves to a beating on the football field…. However, this fall the first group of Nebraska veterinary students will arrive at ISU under the new Nebraska-ISU veterinary program. These students have spent the first two years of their veterinary school curriculum at the University of Nebraska, and will spend their two remaining years – and get their DVM – from IowaState. Dean Thomson told me that the ISU students were very excited to have the Nebraska students arrive and that the Nebraska students were already getting involved in things like leadership and SCAVMA. It will be interesting to watch this program as it progresses. Thomson said that other schools were looking at this same model as well.

ISU abounds in food animal student programs, especially their beef, dairy and pork programs (SPIKE, D-PIKE, B-PIKE) that I don’t have time to go into here, but go to and check them out, and also visit the Veterinary School News section of to see a description of them.

Weaned heifer calves are moved into group housing. Note the mix of dairy breeds. 

It was great getting up to my old stomping grounds (and if you’ve ever been, to get back to Great Plains Sauce & Dough pizza which is arguably the best), and witness a refreshing resurgence of faculty, facilities and investment in food animal education.

Nice job, ISU.