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City girl veterinarian specializes in dairy calf health

Progressive Dairyman Writer Audrey Schmitz Published on 09 September 2016
Erika Nogorske

While Erika Nagorske was working through vet school at the University of Minnesota, she noticed a significant pattern of disinterest in calf health among dairy producers and veterinarians.

“To some producers, calves are that thing that is there on the farm, are a lot of work and are not making any money,” Nagorske says. “When they get sick, it is really annoying and frustrating for them. I found an opportunity to help those producers by making it easier to make healthier cows.”

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Nagorske, originally from Madison, Wisconsin, is a city girl and did not grow up on a dairy yet always wanted to be a vet since she was 6 years old. In high school, she worked at a mixed animal clinic and was then hired on at Rollin’ Green Dairy in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.

It was here that Nagorske discovered a passion for calves and heifers as she watched the McNeely family’s grandmother, Pat, take care of all the calves.

“I really admired how she looked after them,” Nagorske says. “It takes a special eye and a special person to not only be interested in calf health but be good at it.”

Working on the dairy fueled her desire to become a large-animal vet and sparked an interest in dairy medicine.

“I really loved the people, the industry, the animals, and that they are a really fun production system to work with,” Nagorske says. “From there it really took off. I started to get experience in every part of the industry that I could, and now I’m here.”

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Throughout undergraduate and vet school she worked in the University of Minnesota Diagnostic Lab and shadowed Jeremy Schefers, DVM and pathologist/assistant professor.

She also helped him with his own personal research study on his farm by adding frozen colostrum cubes to milk fed to calves from days two to 14. The purpose of this study was to reduce the disease incidence of rotavirus and coronavirus and help with calf scours.

Watching him work with producers who had really tough situations in either calf management or disease outbreak inspired Nagorske to specialize in calf health. The coaching Schefers gave producers to make changes in calf management on an individual basis was a rewarding process for her to be a part of.

“From there I knew I really liked it and wanted to make sure that whatever I did as a veterinarian involved some degree of calf health management,” Nagorske says.

During vet school, Nagorske had the opportunity to assist in a few research projects related to calves and heifers. She assisted Sandra Godden, DVM and professor, in a colostrum management research project taking care of and feeding calves from when they were born until a few days old.

“It was fun to work with hundreds of calves throughout the summer and see that if you treat a calf well from day one, they do a lot better,” Nagorske says.

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Along with assisting professors in research at the university, Nagorske completed internships with Zoetis and Trans Ova Genetics.

After graduating from the college of veterinary medicine this past May, Nagorske has started as a large-animal vet specializing in dairy and dairy calf management at the Worthington Veterinary Medical Center in Minnesota.

She says her mentor, Dr. Sara Barber, is training her to conduct calf consultation visits when producers call about issues with their calves’ health. Nagorske’s job is to travel to the producer’s farm and go over their calf management protocols or to conduct on-farm testing to see where there are opportunities for improvement.

“I am excited that Worthington does not just fly in and give some advice to producers and then tell them to come see us again,” Nagorske says. “We will stop by once a week for a month or every two weeks and then re-evaluate.”

Nagorske believes it is a great systematic method that truly helps the producer meet the benchmark they want in a set time period.

Every farm is completely different when it comes to calf management and can vary significantly from where and how calves are raised. This variance in management methods continues to excite her about calf health.

“Even if a producer is doing really well with his or her calf health management, there is always opportunity to do better. So I think it is something I will never get sick of,” Nagorske says.

Because no two farms are the same, it keeps her on her toes and her mind sharp, thinking of ways calf health can be improved.

Nagorske’s advice to someone pursuing a veterinary degree is to study hard. Even though the science is really hard, she says one can get through it if they are interested. Nagorske also says if someone is not from a farm like herself to not let it bother them.

“You kind of have a different eye if you are not from a farm because you are not going by your grandfather’s or uncle’s ways. You are learning as you go,” Nagorske says.  end mark

Audrey Schmitz was a 2016 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

PHOTO: Erika Nagorske developed a passion for calves while working on a Wisconsin dairy. This passion led her to pursue a veterinary degree along with several internships and research projects related to calf health. Photo provided by Erika Nagorske. 

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