Mike Apley, DVM, PhD Kansas State University

“A leader in evidence-based medicine discussions.” “Has brought pharmacology education and its issues to the forefront of feedlot medicine.”

A 1987 veterinary school graduate of Kansas State University, Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, gravitated toward feedlot medicine because he liked cattle, production systems and good people. Apley believes data collection capabilities in the feedlot industry initially advanced well before our ability to interpret the data. “I think the industry as a whole is getting more of an understanding of how to structure and analyze the numbers we collect from the feedlots,” he says. “There is a huge difference between seeing if monthly numbers meet our arbitrary benchmarks and letting the numbers tell us what is truly going on in the system followed by trying to refine the system.”

Apley believes organic production will continue to be a truly niche market, but that more consumers are responding to that market and are more aware of welfare and food safety issues. “I don’t think we have yet found the ultimate mix of consumer interest (and willingness to pay), product quality, environmental impact, animal husbandry, and production cost.” 

In the next decade Apley hopes to see advances in animal diagnostics and more individual case management. “When a universal response to a lame animal is restricted to needles, we still have a long way to go.” Apley also believes the beef industry has completely ignored selecting for disease resistance along with performance. “We accept that carcass quality and performance have huge genetic components, but then turn around and ignore health in our selection process.”  

An AVC member since 1991, Apley says beef cattle veterinarians range from those completely dedicated to the industry all the way to a very small population of shameless con artists. “Fortunately, our profession is very, very heavily weighted to the former rather than the latter,” he notes. “I continue to be amazed by the insight and observational skills of the veterinary practitioner. The strength of the beef practitioner is still in observing what is going on around him or her. The most successful among us are those who use the word ‘why’ the most.”   

Apley recalls mentorship from others such as his father who practiced in central Kansas from 1964 through 2001 and demonstrated the realities of life in veterinary medicine and approached those realities with integrity. Veterinary pharmacologist Dan Upson sparked an interest in the application of drugs in food animals and demonstrated respect for the veterinary practitioner. Feedlot consultant Del Miles embodies intensity, dedication to an industry, the ability to read people and digging for answers.

“If you want to talk about heroes, then those are the quiet professionals that serve the small communities in which many of us live,” adds Apley. “Foremost among those are the general-practice veterinarians serving rural communities, like my father did, and the professionals that teach our children.”

Apley encourages students to first figure out their personal goals for professional fulfillment, income and lifestyle. “If working with cattle on feed is a goal, you can do that in many different ways. If feedlot medicine rises to the top of your interests, grow in that direction.”

David Bechtol, DVM Canyon, Texas

“He was the prototype for feedlot veterinarians.” “He was one of the pioneers.” “He’s a super-active participant in organized veterinary medicine.”

For 41 years David Bechtol, DVM, has been practicing feedlot medicine in the United States and in such exotic locations as Mongolia. After graduating from Texas A&M University in 1965, his practice, Palo Duro Consulting in Canyon, Texas, eventually grew in swine and feedlots because of the rapid expansion of both industries in the Texas Panhandle.

Bechtol, who was the Academy’s first president in 1972, says feedlot medicine has taken a team approach with integrated programs involving all aspects of this segregated industry including cow-calf, stocker, backgrounders, feedlots, research and allied industries. “The majority of feedlot and beef cattle veterinarians are great,” says Bechtol. I’m glad to see all the younger, sharper and more-educated veterinarians becoming involved with our industry.”

The feedlot veterinary industry does have a few touchy issues. “I’ve always tried to stay on the side of ‘fee for services’ and not get involved with pharmaceutical sales,” Bechtol explains. “This might be a conflict of interest for the feedlot veterinarian.” Another issue is competition. Bechtol looks at other veterinarians as colleagues rather than competition, even though they don’t always agree on each issue.

The use of diagnostics has grown tremendously, but overuse or inappropriate use is a concern. “Our industry is alarmist and it seems we can get feedlots to do some diagnostics or use a product even though we don’t have the science to back it up.” Along with that, Bechtol would like to see more data generated on products and evidence-based medicine.

 Many veterinarians see Bechtol as a mentor, but Bechtol has mentors of his own. One is Dallas Horton, DVM, with whom he began working in the 1970s. “Dallas would bring veterinary students from Colorado State Univer-sity and we would make feedlot calls in a school bus.” Other veterinarians include Ray Cerniga, Bill Sippel, Dan Upson, Roger Panciera, and swine veterinarians Al Leman and Wally Brandt who taught him about the herd health management concept which has carried over into his feedlot programs.

Bechtol continues to mentor new graduates and those who have been in the profession for years. “This is a small profession, but very important in protecting our food supply. New veterinarians need to jump in with both feet. Don’t worry about making a few mistakes.” Also important, he says, is to understand how the feedlot industry works, how learning individual animal medicine can be applied to your food-animal practice and to understand the economics of the cow-calf, stocker, feedlot and packing industry.

“I have been blessed in all aspects of food-animal medicine since graduation,” notes Bechtol. “I have been able to witness the ‘birth of an industry’ and grow with it.”

Calvin Booker, DVM, MVSc Okotoks, Alberta

“He is the single most influential driver of epidemiology, the commercial field trial model and economics in private feedlot veterinary practice over the last 15 years.”

Calvin Booker, DVM, MVSc, was drawn to feedlot medicine because of the opportunity to use his epidemiologic skills for disease prevention and control, as well as enhancing production and profitability. A 1989 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatchewan, Booker returned to WCVM for his Masters in Veterinary Science in 1992. “I was intrigued by the free-market, capitalistic business approach that feedlot producers use,” says Booker. “And I was attracted by the opportunity to work with the likes of veterinarians Kee Jim, Tim Guichon, and Eugene Janzen.”

Booker notes that one overall change in the feedlot industry is the extent to which data and information are used to make production decisions. “There are still large differences in the quality and quantity of information used, but there is far less anecdote and gut-feel used to make decisions today. In addition, the properly conducted, large-pen commercial field trial model has gained substantial acceptance as a valid and powerful research tool for determining the relative cost benefit of various production options.”

Booker believes that veterinarians with training and skills in the use of epidemiologic tools and principles are in the best position to help define the most cost-effective feedlot disease control and production strategies. “The key will be to determine which new technologies actually result in more cost-effective production.”

The upcoming generation of feedlot veterinarians has the potential to provide great value to their clients if they follow the data-based approach to disease and production management as opposed to the theoretical or “guru” approaches, notes Booker.

Booker credits many others for his path in feedlot medicine. “Kee Jim has an uncanny ability to remain objectively focused on the issue at hand, a unique quality that has allowed him to cut through a lot of the peripheral material to get to the core of most issues. Kee and Tim Guichon showed me the value of using a data-based approach to animal-health management and decision making — an unbiased economic tool for making recommendations.” Others who influenced Booker are Otto Radostits, Chuck Guard and Eugene Janzen.

“I love what I do and I can’t wait to get to the office each day,” Booker says. “I recognize this as a privilege not a right. I consider myself truly blessed in this regard.”

Dee Griffin, DVM, MS Clay Center, Neb.

“He is a leader in U.S. BQA.” “He shares his passion with students and colleagues.”

Dee Griffin, DVM, MS, Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, has been involved with feedlot medicine for over 30 years. A 1975 Oklahoma State University graduate with a master’s degree in pathology and ruminant nutrition from Purdue, Griffin says a trip to Hitch Feedyard his senior year in veterinary school with Don Williams, DVM, set him on his career path.

“I fell in love for the second time in my life — and I am still married to both,” says Griffin. “I learned early on there are no most-valuable players in a feedyard. Committing to caring for the cattle is wonderful, but best of all you get to work with some of the neatest people in the world. Not to mention you get to go to bed knowing you are making an important contribution to God’s world.”

Griffin says the biggest potential impact in the cattle industry is in proper animal husbandry throughout the animal’s life cycle. “One of the most important factors to having a healthy weaned feeder calf in a feedyard is for that calf to be born from a healthy mother and get a proper start in its first hours of life.”

He sees the feedlot industry advancing in the future with more sophisticated recordkeeping systems and analysis of health and production information. “Intimate involvement with management is key, but you can only have that level of involvement if you work very hard to understand the relationship between the all the parts that make for successful feedyard production management,” says Griffin. “You must properly collect and critically evaluate production data.”

Griffin says four mentors shaped his career. “Dr. Don Williams made it fun and exciting. He frequently reminded me to focus on the objective, not just the animal.” Another was Ladd Hitch of Hitch Feedlot who taught Griffin “if it ain’t right — make it right.”

“Words can’t describe how Dr. Harold Amstutz affected my thought process and the depth of examination he taught me,” adds Griffin. Last but not least, Griffin credits his father. “He was a common man who taught me to appreciate the contributions of the folks who bust their tails every day to care for the cattle in our feedyards.” Every one of these people loved the cattle, says Griffin. “They understood that if you abuse this wonderful creature we are responsible for in any way, it will take it out of your checkbook. Proper animal care is not only the right thing to do, it is the profitable thing to do.”

Feedlot veterinarians are a close-knit group. “We are a 24–7 family,” says Griffin. “There is not a veterinarian I know who would not do whatever was needed to help another veterinarian.”

Griffin’s advice to veterinary students is to fall in love with what they do. “If feedyards excite you, buckle
up and it will be a great ride. In 30 years I have never dreaded getting up in the morning. I love the cows, I love the people and I love the contribution we make.”

G. Kee Jim, DVM Okotoks, Alberta

“Not afraid to challenge the dogma and gurus.” “Has a unique ability to focus on the real issues, a true scientist.” “Has probably done more to advance feedlot medicine than anyone else in North America.”

In 1983, G. Kee Jim, DVM, started practicing feedlot medicine in Okotoks, Alberta, the same year he graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (University of Saskatchewan). He was drawn to feedlot medicine because of an interest in beef cattle and epidemiology.

Jim joined Tim Guichon, DVM, and became a founding partner in Feedlot Health Management Services (FHMS), which has now grown to a 12-veterinarian beef industry consultancy.

One of Jim’s personal heroes in feedlot medicine is Eugene Janzen, DVM. “Eugene provided inspiration and guidance in the establishment of FHMS,” says Jim.

Jim notes that the most significant changes he has seen are the emergence of chute-side data collection systems, the use of digital imaging for necropsy and clinical diagnosis at the feedlot and the role of the veterinarian changing from providing consulting on animal health issues only to providing consulting on a broad range of production issues.

Jim believes the opportunities that are available for feedlot veterinarians mirror the mission statement of Feedlot Health Management Services: to develop scientifically valid, information-based management systems for feedlots that utilize data-based decision making in the areas of procurement, production and marketing. “I would encourage new grads to enter into feedlot medicine because it is the best opportunity for those interested in beef cattle to be part of a dynamic agribusiness system where all of the skills and knowledge acquired in the veterinary education process can be utilized,” he says.

Del Miles, DVM Greeley, Colo.

“A mentor, he participated in policy development and establishing standards of practice.” “Made us rethink our approach to animal health and welfare.” “First consultant who pushed evidence-based medicine and large-pen feedlot research.”

When Del Miles, DVM, graduated veterinary school in 1966 from the University of Missouri, he probably had no idea how much of an impact he would make in the following years on feedlot medicine and his colleagues in the field. Miles worked in mixed and small animal practices, academia and industry, and became intrigued by feedlot production medicine. Now after 26 years in feedlot medicine, Miles says he’s seen significant advances in the development of computerized record systems and analysis, the development of long-acting antimicrobials and a marked improvement of viral and some bacterial vaccines. Looking into the future, he says individual animal identification with the ability to read the numbers from a distance along with physiological parameters such as temperature, blood chemistry, etc. are opportunities for the industry. Another advancement he believes will come is the development of immune system-enhancing drugs resulting in the reduction of antimicrobial use.

Miles has been a member of the AVC for over 30 years and has been a mentor to many, but he has some colleagues he looks up to as well. “Hal Rinker is extremely intelligent and straightforward,” says Miles. “He was a true pioneer in production medicine. David Bechtol developed a practice based upon service, training and education with no drug sales. And Bob Glock is one of the most practical, highly educated individuals I have ever known. He’s bailed me out of more traps than anyone else.”

“Of all of the endeavors I have pursued in veterinary medicine, production feedlot medicine has been the most mentally rewarding,” says Miles. “I believe there is a great future in feedlot production medicine for those who love to teach, are willing to work and will keep the best interest of the cattle and their owners as a number one priority.”