VIDEO: Dairy veterinarian living dream job at Rock County farm
TOWN OF MAGNOLIA--Large-animal veterinarian Angela Kinney never saw a cow until she was 18.
She grew up in a Brazilian city of 1.2 million but now is living her dream--caring for 5,000 animals as the staff veterinarian at Larson Acres dairy farm in western Rock County.
“I love it, I love it,” she said. “It's fun coming to work.”
While most of the animals are known only as a number, she always has her favorites. Those include her “baby,” who has only one claw on her foot, which was crushed by her mother at birth.
“That one definitely is close to my heart,” she said.
Kinney is in a rare position among regional farms as a part-time staff veterinarian because most farms are too small to support such a position. Staff vets are common in places such as Florida or California, where farms with tens of thousands of animals are not unusual.
She can't imagine taking care of that many animals. Kinney started at Larson Acres when the farm expanded in 2010. She helps manage a herd that includes about 2,400 milking cows. The rest are heifers, dry cows and calves.
Kinney always wanted to be a vet for cats and dogs, but now she puts her hands in the air when thinking about working in a clinic.
“You have to kill too many,” said Kinney, who speaks with a Brazilian accent and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. “I prefer to deal with the cows.”
She arrived in the United States in 1999 at the World Dairy Expo through a program that sends students abroad for training. She met her husband at church one Sunday morning, and with the encouragement of a vet she was working with got her license to practice in Wisconsin.
She studied for two years at UW-Madison to validate her degree from Brazil and started at Evansville Veterinary Service in 2006.
A typical day for her at Larson Acres starts by examining sick animals, going over treatments and reviewing work by the herdsmen, who take care of the animals around the clock.
The farm has a hospital barn.
“I go over to the hospital and see how everybody looks, how they are coming, if they are improving or someone doesn't look like something is going right,” she said.
She double-checks the milk cultures, and much of her work involves data analysis. She makes lists of animals that probably are sick and watches for patterns in their milk production, which is monitored through transponders in the cows' ears.
She reviews all antibiotic use on the farm to ensure none of it winds up in the milk.
“If there is, I would have a heart attack,” she said. “It is a big deal for us that the milk is safe. I think that's one of the most important parts of me (being) here, is to supervise the use of our drugs.”
It's up to her to decide when to stop treating a sick cow after determining it won't get better.
“She definitely has to change careers. She can not be a dairy cow anymore,” she said. “I have to make that decision, too.”
The farm uses clinic staff for reproduction, emergencies, milk and nutrition specialists and other consultations.
Kinney also performs surgery. The most common is a dislocated abomasum, which is one of the chambers of the stomach.
The farm averages about 10 calve births each day, though she recalled a day that saw 25. The herdsmen handle most of the deliveries.
The welfare of the animals is “very important” to her.
“My loyalty first is to the animals, and then to the farm, which needs to make a living,” she said.