Randy Hunziker operates a row crop and cattle operation in Centertown, Missouri. Recently, Hunziker had a bout of pneumonia plague his cattle herd. With a full-time day job, Hunziker did not have time to treat his herd, so he called his veterinarian. The veterinarian came out and successfully treated the ailing calves resulting in a 100 percent survival rate.
Hunziker has many options for large animal veterinarians in his area, including operations in Jefferson City, Missouri; California, Missouri; and Centertown, Missouri. But many farmers across the state, and across the nation, are not that lucky.
“You would have to learn things yourself or rely on your neighbors,” Hunziker said. “It would be rough to do, because there are so many things the farmer does not know that vets do.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, as of Dec. 31, 2017, only 12.2 percent of the veterinarians in private practice treat large animals. Of that number, only around half were considered “food animal predominant” or “food animal exclusive.” These numbers are staggering compared to the whopping 66.6 percent of the practices who indicate they are “companion animal exclusive.”
Economic factors hinder many students wanting to practice large animal veterinary medicine. Students who graduate from veterinary school often have loans they must pay off and practicing in a rural area, earning lower wages, seems daunting when students can accumulate debt of $150,000 or more.
Recognizing this challenge, the Missouri Department of Agriculture began administering the Dr. Merrill Townley Large Animal Veterinary Student Loan Program to assist students enrolled in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The spirit of the program is to enable people to go into a rural area and help them with their loan debt so that they can provide that service to producers,” said Dr. Linda Hickam, state veterinarian and director of the animal health division for the Missouri Department of Agriculture. “We are able to provide the economic incentive for people to do so.”
The program provides a $20,000 loan for living and educational expenses for six individuals per academic year. The loans are forgiven when the student practices veterinary medicine in a defined area of need in Missouri. These practices can be single or multi-veterinarian programs, or new clinics the students start themselves.
Today, 22 of the 24 recipients of the grant program still practice large animal veterinary medicine in Missouri, including Dr. Jeff Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht was one of the first recipients of the grant program. Engelbrecht runs his own large animal mobile veterinary service in Eldon, Missouri. The loan program allowed him to practice where and how he wanted immediately after graduating from the MU College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010.
Without the assistance of the loan, Engelbrecht would have had to practice at an established clinic. With the financial assistance the loan provided, he was able to start his own mobile large animal clinic, Engelbrecht Veterinary Service.
“It allowed me to open my own practice and build my own clientele by not having to pay back too many loans,” Engelbrecht said.
Engelbrecht doesn’t think he will stop practicing large animal veterinary medicine any time soon.
“I love what I do, so I’ll probably keep doing it until I can’t anymore,” he said.
Any student who is considering studying large animal veterinary medicine can apply for the Dr. Merrill Townley Large Animal Veterinary Student Loan Program on the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s website.