Farm-based student vet center fosters experience-based learning
Friday, March 15, 2019
Posted by: Lauren Brey, director of marketing and research
A well-trained, experienced group of future large-animal veterinarians — that’s the result of a unique public-private partnership between Edge member Davis Family Dairies and the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (UMN-CVM).
To help veterinary students gain first-hand experience working with dairy cattle, the university partners with Davis Family Dairies on a Dairy Education Center.
“While the CVM is located in the middle of a large metropolitan area in the Twin Cities, veterinary students need access to dairy farms and cattle in order to become competent practitioners,” said Dr. Erin Royster, assistant professor in dairy production medicine at UMN-CVM.
In 2009, Davis Family Dairies was in the process of building New Sweden Dairy, its second 3,000-cow farm at the time, which serves as a transition site for the company’s three dairies and milks cows as well.
Through the partnership, the university was able to design the education center into the dairy farm, allowing the UMN dairy program to expand to include access to 10,000 adult cows during all stages of lactation, as well as youngstock. Royster serves as the liaison between the farm and the university to ensure the program meets the needs of both parties.
“This public-private partnership makes economic sense for both parties and the broader dairy community,” said Mitch Davis of Davis Family Dairies. “It allows the two-way exchange of needs between academia and the commercial world in real time. This is of great value as both parties influence each other in productive ways.”
Veterinary students not only learn but also live on the farm during part of their education. This allows students to practice clinical veterinary medicine on hundreds of cows over a short period of time.
“Compared to a referral hospital or even a typical veterinary practice, our students work with a large population of ‘normal’ cows, and this is incredibly helpful for them to learn to gauge what is normal and what is abnormal,” Royster said. "In addition, they get to practice clinical decision-making on a real dairy, which allows them to understand the context, potential limitations and all the implications of their decisions. They get to know a real production system, inside and out."
In the production medicine rotations, students sit in a classroom to learn about a topic, then walk out on the dairy and apply it. For example, they could spend a morning talking about nutritional management of transition cows and then head to the barn and do a total mixed rations evaluation.
"This partnership has allowed our programs to be truly experiential education," Royster said.
The program also benefits the dairy farm. “Our staff gets to interact with talented people from outside our team regularly,” Davis said. “They bring new and different ideas to us as to how to care for our animals as well as pushing the envelope on the latest new technologies around products and practices. It is very stimulating for our team to have the presence and the interactions with the U of M.”
The program’s value reaches beyond the students and the farm; it’s a benefit to the broader dairy community.
“Dairy farmers need a veterinarian, or a team of veterinarians, who can provide unbiased advice on all the aspects of the dairy — management of nutrition, reproduction, youngstock, disease prevention, milk and beef quality, financial decisions, housing design and ventilation, antibiotic stewardship, performance analysis and monitoring and so much more,” Royster said. “But that depth and breadth of expertise is well beyond the scope of most veterinary school curricula. We need dairy farmers to participate and contribute to the education of veterinarians if they want to have qualified veterinarians on their team.”
It is more important than ever for veterinary students to have opportunities to gain experience working on a real farm as many do not come from agricultural backgrounds.
“The training of dairy veterinarians in an operating commercial dairy farm is of great value to all in the dairy community in that it helps equip the very best students with the knowledge and information that will help them to be more effective as soon as they enter the workforce,” Davis said.
“By entering into a partnership with the College of Veterinary Medicine, Davis Family Dairies is investing in the future of dairy veterinary practice,” Royster said, “and I think it’s safe to say they have and will continue to see a return on that investment.”