Eyes wide open

I spent a couple of days in the Twin Cities last week for the University of Minnesota’s U-Lead Advisory program, and once again, I was excited to take part in some tours – this time visiting the University’s Veterinary Diagnostics and Dairy Science labs.

The farm girl in me was intrigued by all of the research being done.

While some others in the group may have felt a bit nauseous at the sight of a deer head on a tabletop, a half-dozen turkeys cut open for comparison and a zippered plastic baggie containing a baby pig’s intestines, I was wide-eyed, full of questions and eager to learn.

Why couldn’t my science classes in junior high and high school have been so fascinating? We just dissected earth worms and frogs soaked in formaldehyde – hardly fascinating – especially when the boys sitting behind me tossed frog body parts at the boys sitting in front of me!

Visiting the U of M’s diagnostic lab was like adding another piece to the puzzle of veterinary medicine.

Growing up on the farm, I was forced to make the call a time or two to request a veterinarian come and figure out what was going on with one of my goats. I’d watch blood samples being collected and admire the work of the animal doctor.

There was a time when I wanted to be a vet – to save every animal from an untimely demise – but by the time I reached my late teens I’d seen enough to know a veterinarian can’t save every animal, even the very best of pets.

When my most favorite goat Trav’ was brought in to the VMC in Worthington for a C-section, I was in the lobby with my Mom, scared to death I was going to lose the matriarch of my herd. Trav’ loved to rest her chin on my shoulder and breathe in my ear as I sat atop a five-gallon bucket to do the milking every morning and night. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her cut open and unresponsive.

The veterinarian saved her life that day and, even though all three of her babies were lost, I knew everything would be all right with Trav’, and it was.

That experience made me realize, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be a veterinarian. But what I never realized – what I never even considered – was the other world of opportunity open to someone wanting to make a difference in animal agriculture.

Several weeks ago, I toured the diagnostics lab at Prairie Holdings Group in Worthington. I saw samples come in from farms – tissues, fluids and even feces – to be analyzed. Every item was in need of a diagnosis – every piece was part of a puzzle. If they can’t solve it at Newport Labs, they send the sample on to the University of Minnesota, or Iowa State University, or even South Dakota State University (my alma mater).

Diagnostic technicians work behind the scenes to solve the problems – and they don’t have to be the one to deliver the bad news to anyone. In fact, they deliver the good news.

Farmers can’t fix health problems in their herd without an accurate diagnosis, and that’s what the diagnostics lab at Newport Labs, and the diagnostic lab at the University of Minnesota are for. They solve problems. They help people, and they help the animal industry.

I took pictures during my tour last week with the intent to post them here. Then I realized not everybody would share in my appreciation for seeing a technician cut apart a small intestine, or a veterinarian explain the process of diagnosing Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.

At times I think it would be really neat to have a lab job like that – one where I get to help solve problems affecting the health of our livestock industry. And then I think back to junior and senior high science classes. I seem to remember them being kind of hard, but then again, I probably didn’t apply myself like I should have.

In all honesty, I would have rather been sitting out in the barn telling stories to my goats than sitting amidst a frog fight in biology class.

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