Friday, November 21, 2008

Nebraska Veterinary History Part VI


By Dr. Leo L. Lemonds

After World War II, the number of new veterinary graduates and the intensity and techniques of livestock production in Nebraska, expanded rapidly. There was an acceleration of the trend towards partnerships and group practices among veterinarians. Multi-person clinics became common and more large and small animals hospitals appeared especially in areas where the nature of livestock growing production and distances involved made it feasible to reduce travel time and provided a flow of surgical and obstetrical patients to permit maximum use of the veterinarians skills.

In rural areas, the pickup with the mobile veterinary clinic complete with refrigeration and hot & cold water, helped increase the efficiency of making rural calls. Later during this period the completely mobile small animal clinic for making house calls began in Lincoln and Omaha.

However, even at the present time, except for the Lincoln and Omaha areas, most of the out-state Nebraska veterinary hospitals are true “animal hospitals” with facilities geared for both large and small animals. The group practice generally provided veterinary services in a more advanced and refined form. It has enabled practice businesses to be more attractive and efficient, to provide laboratory and restraint equipment and to induce supervision of lay personnel in nonprofessional services.

During this period, Nebraska practitioner laboratories became equipped to investigate in depth and detail, the bio-chemical considerations to fit the “new look” in livestock production. In dealing with the large units of food animals reared under unnatural conditions and on un-natural feeds, the practitioner turned to the laboratory requesting metabolic profiles, nutritional analysis and pathogenic identification to fit the new requirements. Gradually the Nebraska practitioner must keep pace into an era of computer-managed, science-dominated livestock production.

Following World War II there has been the emergence of practitioner specialization. Nebraska veterinarians in ever increasing numbers have joined an increasing number of highly successful specialty groups such as the American Animal Hospital Association; American Association of Bovine Practitioners; American Association of Equine Practitioners; American Association of Swine Practitioners; American Association of Sheep and Goat Practitioners.

The rate of change in agriculture during this period in Nebraska was so rapid that it was difficult for many practitioners to understand what was happening and to make proper adjustments. The return in numbers of the pleasure horse was a source of joy and revenue to those veterinarians who loved the horse. Meanwhile, the pet animal practice became an integral part of almost every practice.

More veterinarians, especially in the larger Nebraska towns recognized the need to specialize exclusively in small animals. The dog and cat’s life had changed from the barn to that as a member of the family in the house. The veterinary service for small animals has now become sophisticated with radiology equipment, all kinds of new anesthesia weapons including a variety of inhalants, a wide variety of diagnostic equipment notably the blood chemical analytical units, specific agents treating illnesses and immunologic vaccinations to protect against a wide range of diseases.

The concept of bigness in animal production became a real shaping influence on food animal practice, often not in concert with professional philosophies of animal health. Thus, while family farms and the traditional requirements remained (even though becoming much larger), there were the new huge cattle feedlots and large swine-production units with a different philosophy of animal health – one in which treatment of the individual animal was not regarded as feasible.

This meant a search for a new role, one in which the veterinarian would initiate and plan programs of preventative medicine, an approach with much of the actual animal manipulations delegated to the producer. The large animal practitioner in Nebraska reacted to these changed circumstances by developing and experimenting with various approaches to provide his training and capabilities in the form most useful to the livestock producer.

Initially, programmed herd-health ventures ranged from simple gimmicks to sound programs representing major innovative thrusts. After the period of trial and error and adjustment, it seems probable that a form of programmed veterinary medicine will survive and grow. Another program being put into effect to ensure healthy livestock at this time by the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association is a preconditioning plan of selling calves that have been castrated, dehorned and vaccinated prior to being sold that will help to reduce stress and disease.

Also confronting the farm animal practitioner was the awareness that high labor costs led to more mechanization and confinement-rearing livestock. This, in turn, presented the practitioner with a changing spectrum of diseases, different from those to which he had become accustomed under pasture-rearing conditions. As animals lived in a more and more completely man-created and man-controlled environment, there was an ever-increasing host of bizarre metabolic, nutritional and psychological problems.

The importance of genetics and the influence of intensively selecting breeding animals reflected itself in the practitioners concern for animal health. In the dairy cow, for example there were many vague metabolic and nutritional disorders associated with the great volumes of milk produced by highly bred cows. In feedlot beeves and in hogs, the singular rate of body weight gains imposed new and hard to under-stand disorders.

Concurrently there was a change in the distribution of the livestock population in Nebraska. The dairy cattle population diminished rapidly. Feedlots of cattle, often gigantic in size, began to appear sometimes in areas where there was nothing before. Likewise, large climatically controlled confinement hog operations appeared almost everywhere.

In 1967, the hog cholera control legislation, which prohibited the use of the live hog cholera viral vaccines, left many Nebraska veterinarians with a career decision to make. Long-time large animal practitioners with roots deep in the community were reluctant to relocate. Some embraced small animal practice or simply phased themselves out of the profession.

Later, the farm animal practitioner was encumbered with new concerns as he sought to use the most effective drugs in food-producing animals. Because drugs can produce residues in meat products, possibly with carcinogenic properties, this required certain new compromises in treatment to keep the veterinarians and the producer – client in compliance with drug residue and environmental quality control regulations.

Non-treatment drugs, those given as growth stimulants and disease preventatives, became a greater factor in the altered environment and the veterinarian because of his training, found himself pressured to be concerned with therapeutic agents quite removed from animal therapy.

Another of the changes in the Nebraska veterinary profession was the arrival in the 40’s of the first woman and black veterinarian, Dr. Ordella Geisler of Lincoln and Dr. A. B. Pittman of Omaha. There are now many women and black veterinarians in Nebraska and they continue to play an ever increasing role in Nebraska’s veterinary history.

Throughout their history Nebraska veterinarians have shown tremendous ability to reshape and redirect their activities to conform to changing needs and times. Some changes have been subtle and nearly imperceptible, others have been dramatic. While there remains many gaps to be filled in Nebraska’s veterinary history –some lessons from our past may provide some guidance to the future as each individual Nebraska veterinarian plays their role in its history.


A Century of Veterinary Medicine in Nebraska

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