For the Love of Cows

For the Love of Cows

When I applied to vet school I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to get through school, graduate, and go straight into small animal general practice. I was convinced that the fluffy pets of the world were going to be what I built my career on, and other people could concern themselves with the non-fluffy species. On the first day of class, we learned that a four-hour Clinical Skills course was included in the curriculum and would teach us how to work with sheep, pigs, horses, and even cows! My only experience with these species prior to vet school had been some minor, unsuccessful interactions with horses. I hoped I’d fair better with the sheep.

The farm

Clinical Skills 1-15-15

Stephanie Bertrand demonstrates sheep handling.

On the first day of Clinical Skills, I stepped into my coveralls, pulled the straps over my shoulders and tugged on my Muck boots, ready to go make some friends at the farm. It was a cloudy day, but warm enough, and being out in the open air of the farm was refreshing. My group began the day with sheep, and although I had no previous experience I felt comfortable learning what the barn staff, Scott and Stephanie, had to teach us. As the day went on we took a quick walk over to the mare barn to learn the basics of horse care, and I began to realize just how lucky I was to have the convenience of a working farm just steps away from my classroom.

Learning from each other

At each station, we got to learn a whole set of new techniques, grooming basics, and basic restraint methods. Having access to real “patients” made it so much easier to practice what we were learning, and it exposed us to all sorts of different animals that we may not have considered working


Jessica learns how to examine horses.

with before. Best of all, students were given the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with their classmates. As a “dog person” I helped a “horse person” learn basic canine restraint methods, while she shared her experience in successful blood draw methods on horses. It was this wealth of knowledge and ability to share it with each other that made me see how valuable it was to have exposure to all these different species of animals that we may not have had experience working with before. 

An unexpected encounter

Our last stop of the day was at the cow barn.  I was a little apprehensive of what exactly we would be doing with the 1,000 pound Holstein heifers. Keep in mind this is maybe the third time in my entire life that I have seen a cow up close, let alone tried to perform any kind of physical exam on one. When I stepped into the barn I could smell the fresh scent of manure mixing with the crisp New England air, and this odd scent felt somehow calming and familiar. The cows were waiting patiently in their headlocks for us to work with them, and as I looked at these large creatures I felt a strong connection that I had not experienced in any of my previous cow-encounters. “Could it be?” I thought. “Do I love cows?”

A new perspective

Sure enough, as we worked with the cows more and more each week I felt myself falling in love with the simple grace of working in the barn. Learning the practical yet rooted art of caring for these large animals was exciting to me, and I liked being able to ask questions and learn from veterinarians who had worked in this field for many years. Many of my peers have felt the same way about horses or sheep, and we’ve even had a few diehard horse-people show interest in the small animal field! Clinical Skills gives me the opportunity to work with animals I’ve had little to no experience with, and as a result I have now changed my mind to becoming a mixed animal practitioner and caring for the fluffy friends as well as cows, sheep, and other small ruminants.

The experience I have gained from being able to work on real patients in a farm environment just steps away from campus has been invaluable. Whatever your passion in veterinary medicine may be, try to stay open minded to the possibility of other interests, and you may very well discover a new love affair.

Sheep at Cummings Farm