The Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Food Animal Production Tour was held in May of 2009. The tour included visits with veterinarians from clinics in Bowie (CrossTimbersVeterinaryHospital), Dalhart (Circle H Animal Health), Mabank (MabankAnimalHospital), and Hereford (Hereford Veterinary Clinic). “We also visited a large swine operation including the farrowing house, nursery, and grower-finisher areas, a large dairy heifer raiser, a large dairy milking on a carousel, a cheese plant, a diagnostic laboratory (Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory), a large feedlot, a beef harvest facility, and several cow-calf and stocker operations,” says Virginia Fajt, DVM, PhD, Texas A&M University. “We also visited with the leadership of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association adn the Texas Animal Health Commission Amarillo office.”

The Tour is designed to showcase state-of-the-art operations in the dairy, feedlot, swine, and beef industries and to show potential food animal veterinarians the multitudes of opportunities in food supply veterinary medicine.  Students without food animal background and with are encouraged to apply to take the tour, which provides one credit-hour of electives toward the 14 required hours in the veterinary curriculum.  We offer it to early career veterinary students so they still have time to explore other food supply experiences before they graduate. It takes place in May at the end of the spring semester, allowing time for other summer activities for the participating students.  Ten first- and second-year veterinary students are selected from essay applications. 

“We work to include veterinarians, producers, and Texas AgriLife Extension personnel in all our visits, and this year, Jodi Sterle, Extension Swine Specialist, and Ellen Jordan, Extension Dairy Specialist, participated,” Fajt explains. “Last year, Jason Banta, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, was able to participate during the cow-calf portion of the tour.”

Fajt notes that the tour was generously funded this year and will be funded next year by Dr. and Mrs. Cononaugher of Decatur, who are members of the College’s Development Council and who have an interest in expanding educational opportunities for veterinary students interested in mixed and food animal practice. Intervet/Schering Plough and Pfizer Animal Health sponsored meals with practitioners. 

“The goal for the tour is straight-forward,” Fajt says. “Engage first- and second-year students with a potential interest in food supply veterinary medicine and provide a working knowledge and background in production agriculture and roles of food supply veterinarians. Students get to meet mixed-animal and food-animal exclusive practitioners, since this year we added more visiting with practicing veterinarians at meals and informal settings. They see regulatory and diagnostic veterinarians, they see industrial veterinarians, they see practitioners interact with Extension specialists. And they get to spend many hours getting to know us, the instructors, and see how what we do is part of food supply veterinary medicine.

“This year, we were all on one bus, and this was the best part of the trip: getting to know the students and getting to talk about technical and non-technical aspects of veterinary medicine, like public perceptions of animal welfare and work-life balance. I enjoy the trip every year, and the preparation is worth the effort when I watch a student engage with the people we meet. And I am hopeful about the future of food supply veterinary medicine when I see these students ready to be ambassadors for their profession.”

Positive responses
Fajt offers these comments from students on the 2009:

  • “I learned so much from [the instructors] as we drove. The discussions were so invaluable.”
  • “I am not as ‘afraid’ of large animal medicine, especially food animal.”
  • “This course offered an understanding of the industry that I would have never seen.”
  • “I have learned so much in the last 5 days to give me a stronger foundation to build my food animal career on.”
  • “I am more appreciative of the food animal industry and more inclined to do a mixed-animal practice.”
  • “Dr. Kinnard said understanding the magnitude of the industry is key, and I think this week definitely jump started that learning process.”
  • “I am now more excited to become a part of the food animal industry and the beef cattle industry in particular.”

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