- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) - As a child growing up on a farm near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, some of Dr. Pete Plescia’s favorite days were when the veterinarian came to visit. The vet showed the family everything he was doing so they’d be able to handle some tasks on their own.

“It was educational,” said Plescia. He was in 4-H from ages 7 to 18, and by the time he was 10, he knew he wanted to be a veterinarian someday.

“I have a respect for biology and the way those systems work. It makes really good sense to me. It’s easier to me than other subjects,” he said. “It’s been important to me my whole life.”

Plescia went to veterinary school at the University of Illinois and, in 2013, he and his wife, Dr. Christen Plescia - also a veterinarian - purchased the Animal Medical Center in Galesburg from Dr. Tom Liebetrau. While the clinic cares for small animals, Plescia also is the man behind New Pastures Veterinary Service, the only large-animal vet service in Galesburg.

Large animals account for about 10 hours of Plescia’s typical workweek, he said, but 15 or 20 hours during the busy season: springtime calving.

On a Monday morning in early March, Plescia was checking about 28 cows for pregnancy at the Nelson farm near Alexis.

“I enjoy getting out in the field, and also the physical aspect of it,” he said of working with large animals. Whether he’s lifting heavy cattle feet or crouching to assist in birthing piglets, working as a farm vet demands more physical work than working in an office setting with small animals. “I enjoy that. I’m very high-energy, so I like that part of it,” he said.

Plescia said he also likes working outside, where he has to “think on his feet.”

“I have to use my eyes and ears and hands to figure out what’s going on, and that’s important to me,” he said.

But caring for livestock is as much about the people as the animals. Plescia gets to know all of his small-animal clients - pets and human alike - at the office, but traveling to a client’s farm and working together for hours gives him a chance to get to know his clients on a different level.

“This is their living, it’s their bread and butter. It’s important in a different way,” he said. “It’s a totally different type of involvement - they’re making a living off of being good to their animals and having them be more productive because of it, and that’s the type of people I want to work with.”

With nearly 200 head of dairy cattle at the Nelsons’ farm, Plescia works there every other week, and travels to other dairy and beef farms in the region.

“The most common reasons for me to be out are pregnancy checks, vaccines and neutering or castrating,” he said.

And, of course, there are births, which he counts among his favorite duties as a veterinarian.

“I like calvings. OB work - when you pull a calf and everything goes well, or it was stuck and you got it out, and now it’s breathing and it’s out running around, and you have two healthy animals doing well - that’s very fulfilling,” he said.

Still, Plescia said it’s not a job for everyone and, in fact, more than 65 percent of veterinarians practice only on small animals or pets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“All in all, there are probably parts across the countryside and rural areas that have a shortage (of large-animal veterinarians),” Plescia said. Knox County has large-animal vets in Roseville, Alpha and Knoxvville, but “could support more,” he added.

“People don’t want to get into large animals because it’s physical work, it can be dangerous and, for many of them, it’s totally foreign to them,” Plescia said - many vet school grads haven’t spent much, if any, time on a farm.

There’s also the travel factor to consider. While the average farm vet used to serve a 10- to 15-mile radius, these days its more like a 50-mile radius, Plescia said. He travels 30 miles so as not to take business from other area veterinarians. Traveling also means farm vets must have a vehicle that can hold all the necessary equipment, from an ultrasound machine to a caddy for blood samples to a headlamp for finding tools in the dark.

“It’s got everything I need and nothing that I don’t. I’ve got everything but hot and cold water,” Plescia said.

Plescia’s best advice for farmers, especially heading into calving season, is to “intervene early.” It’s easier to care for a cow that’s been in labor for three hours than to address the situation 12 hours later, during a snowstorm in the middle of the night.

“Planning and prevention. A lot of emergencies would not be emergencies if I had been called 10 hours before,” he said, adding, “Try to be proactive. If you’re going on vacation, have a backup plan to have someone check your water tanks.”

In talking to farmers, Plescia said their two biggest concerns are price fluctuations and the public perception of farming.

“There’s a lot of negative farm media out there,” Plescia said, but, “The more people know, the more respect they’ll have for small farmers.”

As for the small farmers he works with, he said, “They want to see their animals do well,” and what makes that happen is “doing well by their animals.”

“We trust each other,” he added. “We’re both there because we want to be there and we want to help the animals do well.”


Source: The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, https://bit.ly/2nTcs5K


Information from: The Register-Mail, https://www.register-mail.com

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