Views of a Veterinarian - Dr. Jason VanLeuven, DVM

Views of a Veterinarian - Dr. Jason VanLeuven, DVM

There are many different opportunities for veterinarians in agriculture. Some veterinarians work in a clinic or make farm calls, others may provide technical support, and others still might just work on one farm. ALL of them are very important assets to the dairy! This week Dr. Jason VanLueven, DVM shares his career path and the opportunities it has provided.

Jason grew up raising Holstein replacement heifers. After he graduated, he served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then went to college at Utah State University. While at Utah State he worked at a dairy and his love for dairy cattle grew. Jason then attended vet school at Washington State University. Upon graduation he started working with a clinic in Gooding, Idaho.

After working in the clinic for about 1.5 years Jason was hired to help Monsanto do some research at Whitesides Dairy in Rupert, Idaho. A year later Monsanto sold their animal health research division and then Jason took on a management role on the dairy.

Over the years that role has changed a little. What once started as a veterinarian client relationship, has developed into a sustainable career and partnership. Jason is now the General Manager of Whitesides dairy. His role is not as hands on as it once was, as he does a lot more training and overseeing employees now. The opportunity has really benefited his family as it allowed him and his wife to return to the area where they grew up and to raise their children near their extended families.  


Q. What are the benefits of being an on-farm veterinarian for both you and the dairy?

A. One of the biggest benefits is that I have the ability to train employees and work on things health wise from a preventative standpoint. If I can maintain good employees, then generally things go well. When we do have disease outbreaks, I have the opportunity to observe the outcome of a treatment. Knowing whether the treatments are effective really helps to get to the root of problems as they arise.

Personally, working on farm is a better lifestyle for me and my family. I don’t have to worry about being on call at a clinic, and life is a lot more predictable.

One of the pitfalls, though, is that I think I can solve problems myself instead of relying on someone else. As the general manager, it’s not always feasible for me to be chasing a scours issue. It’s much more efficient for me to train others about how to handle the situation, and for me to be there to provide support when needed.


Q. What has been one of your biggest health challenges you have encountered in the calves and how did you overcome it?

A, Originally, when I first started working at Whitesides Dairy, we had a calf manager who didn’t have the best personality and he resented everything I did. After I had been there for about 2-3 years, we finally ended up firing him. At that time just about every calf was experiencing a scour event. You can’t just solve that in one day. It took about 1 year to put protocols together to help prevent these scours outbreaks.

We started to focus on cleanliness, colostrum, and calf care. When the previous calf manager left there were flies everywhere. We worked on fly control, and we started working as a team. I had to get to know the employees and figure out what shortcuts people were taking, and how to prevent that from happening.

Really the key to preventing illness is to make sure the calf receives good colostrum, in a timely manner, and plenty of it. Today our calves receive 3 qts of fresh colostrum straight from mama as soon as possible after calving. We don’t pasteurize the colostrum to obtain the benefit from the white blood cells. Calves receive another 3 qts of colostrum 6-8 hours later. Our serum total proteins are consistently over 6.0 and the calves do great. When calves do experience diarrhea, it is generally mild and easily treated with oral electrolytes.  


Q. What types of things do you teach employees when it comes to assessing calf health and how to treat them?

A. We try to have simple protocols that most anyone can follow. In the hutches the first assessment I teach is to observe if the calf is eating. If they didn’t eat, then we take their temperature.

If they don’t have a fever and didn’t eat, then we look for diarrhea, a swollen umbilicus, or abomasal ulcers. After about 2-3 week of age, sick animals usually have pneumonia. If no fever, then we look for a cough and runny nose.


Q. What aspect of calf care do you think is most important in preventing calfhood disease?

A. Definitely, colostrum is #1. Then #2 is nutrition. Without good nutrition you will see more pneumonia, that’s the real calf killer! Diarrhea is annoying but pneumonia has more impact on the calf’s productive life. #3 is cleanliness wherever the calf goes, sanitize bottles, clean calf trailer/hauler, and other equipment. #4 a good vaccination program.


Just as Jason has experienced, you never quite know where your path might take you! Keep your sites set high and work to achieve your goals. Jason thank you for your thoughts and example, we really appreciate you sharing your experiences and knowledge on different aspects of calf raising!


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

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