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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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How an experienced farm vet of 34 years nearly became a human doctor

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with an experienced vet of 34 years, Jon E Higgins, VMD (Acorn FarmVets), as part of this week’s veterinary segment, in first of a two-part interview.

“I am based in Belle Mead, NJ – Central New Jersey in Somerset County, and I live approximately 150 yards from where I grew up.

My parents had a small flock of sheep and a herd of Angus, but my father was a small-town Chrysler car dealer, which my grandfather started.

So, officially my first job was pumping gas, but I worked on a local dairy farm and started grain farming on my own when 14-years-old.

Early on, as a teenager, I developed an interest in agriculture. I was in Dairy 4H up in Vermont and worked on dairy farms all summer up there where my grandparents were.

That, and the farms back home, cemented my desire to work with cattle, which led to my current career as a veterinary practitioner.

Educational pathway: studying veterinary medicine

Briefly, in undergrad at the University of Vermont, I was heading into human medicine. I was accepted for an MD-PhD program in infectious diseases and realised at the last minute, just weeks away, that I really preferred applying myself to medicine in animals, not people.

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont BS, where I specialised in animal science in 1982 and then undertook a VMD Doctor of Veterinary Medicine University of Pennsylvania in 1989, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Bovine ET work

Immediately after my undergrad, I became very interested in the new field of embryo transfer in cattle.

I trained for that at Colorado State University Fort Collins, which really was the epicentre for that field.

I performed this process on my own herd but doing this for others, you need to be a licensed veterinarian – so I applied to the University of Penn but was not accepted immediately (despite 4.0 GPA and high MCAT tests).

Herein is the lesson for those applying – what they really wanted on my application was that I had time riding with local veterinarians, so I knew what I was getting into – I did, but did not formally do that process.

So, people with vet aspirations should spend time with your local practices and have them send letters to vet schools you are applying to.

After graduation

After graduating, I started in practice myself, doing bovine embryo transfer.

I left the day after graduation and headed to Kentucky to flush Hereford donors for a week.

I received wonderful guidance over the first few years both from our local farm vets and also professors at the UPenn vet school at the large animal hospital – as well from other veterinarians belonging to AETA – the American Embryo Transfer Association, but those first few years, fortunately, was confined to ET and herd health work (preg-checks).

34 years in practice

On May 22nd, 2023, I have been in practice as a vet for 34 years. I have run a solo practice most of the years and have had associates in about 6-7 of the years I was in practice.

Currently, I cover most of the state of NJ with the exception of the very top counties and some of bordering Pennsylvania – approximately a 60-mile radius.

I have very good relations some other neighbouring veterinarians that also do some farm work – and we call on each other if someone is going to be out of town to help with coverage.

Over the years, in practice, I have had a lot of oddball things over the years, but one that has cropped up a few times is the congenital ‘monster’, amorphous globosus.

This is a parasitic twin that is born with a normal calf but is essentially a little ball with hair on it. On one, I found teeth, but they are most interesting.

I am most passionate about ruminant reproduction, from recovering embryos to delivering calves/obstetrics.

It is still a really neat kick to see a dish of embryos, seeing them in the scope, and then nine months later, they are running around the field.”

Part two of this interview to follow on That’s Farming.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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