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How I Work: A day in the life of Conrad Spangler

Conrad Spangler Published on 10 April 2013

My day starts as it usually does three days a week, with a 6 a.m. Spanish class over Skype with my teacher, who is at an immersion school in Puebla, Mexico.

Our lessons normally consist of listening and grammatical exercises, followed by reading and comprehension of an article from El Lechero selected by my teacher.

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Today, we are reviewing an article about how to use and interpret the results of the California Mastitis Test. I have a training scheduled with a dairy tomorrow regarding this test and I would like to brush up on the terminology.

I’ve been working hard to develop my Spanish language skills since arriving at Riverview – taking classes on Skype three days a week, using it daily in meetings and trainings with our dairy staff and managers, and even attending the immersion school for three weeks.

Becoming stronger in this area has been key for me to communicate better and get integrated into the system.

After finishing class at 7 a.m., I have a little time before my appointment at one of our dairies at 10 a.m. Three things can be crippling to our business and industry: antibiotic residues, mistreatment of animals and manure spills.

I’ll be focusing on two of them today. I use the time between class and my appointment to create a presentation for our monthly manager meeting next week, in which we are reviewing topics that have been focus areas for us over the last year.

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My assignment is to give a “State of Riverview” address as it relates to our efforts to reduce our risk of having an antibiotic residue in milk or meat.

We have implemented a new physical marking system for identifying animals treated with antibiotics, a training program for new employees in the hospital area in order to raise awareness of this issue, eliminated the use of antibiotics that are not residue-friendly and updated all treatment protocols on paper and in DairyComp 305.

This presentation at the meeting will serve as a reminder to our managers to remain vigilant in the next year, plus we will be revisiting this topic during trainings and other walk-throughs.

We can never completely eliminate the risk of residues happening, but hopefully we are making steps in the right direction.

On my hour-long drive to the dairy for the first training session of the day, I call two of our other dairies to discuss how things are going on the dairy in general and to line up visits and training for the next day.

We are launching a new animal welfare initiative within our dairies, and many of my recent days have been spent raising awareness of videos showing mistreatment on dairies, updating protocols to ensure they are consistent with current recommendations from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and ensuring that our employees understand and utilize these protocols.

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I have been able to use resources such as the National Milk Producers Federation’s FARM Program and industry welfare leaders, such as Dr. Jan Shearer, to help us develop current best practices for our dairies.

As I am approaching my destination, emails start rolling in with weekly milk quality reports from the milk processor that I’ll be able to check upon arrival.

During my first stop at 10 a.m., I gather with this dairy’s manager and SWAT team to talk about our plan for dealing with downer cows. We have determined the best way to approach the unfortunate times in which we have a downer cow is to have a team of specially trained individuals on call at all our dairies.

In order to protect our employees and to provide the best possible care to these cows, these special teams will handle all situations other employees may be unsure about handling.

In the training this morning, we discuss proper euthanasia techniques, approved methods of moving the downer cows, marking the location of the SWAT team calls on a map in order to initiate downer cow troubleshooting and documenting meetings after any specifically difficult situations.

One of Riverview’s core values is integrity, so I continually stress the importance of doing the right thing all the time, whether a camera is there or not. I have the utmost confidence we have the teams necessary to act professionally and with integrity at all times.

We will be meeting with all employees of this dairy later in the week to discuss specifics of our welfare initiative and to review Merck’s first animal-handling video, so we leave it at that for now.

I stop at a gas station around noon for some “health food” before heading to the second training session of the day at one of our calf sites. Here we meet to again discuss the SWAT team and the responsibilities that come with it.

Additionally, we discuss the euthanasia protocol and the dehorning protocol with this group. Unfortunately, we had some heifers slip through the cracks of our dehorning system, meaning that now we have to dehorn some adult cattle and older heifers.

I talk at length about the importance of making sure all our heifers are dehorned early with techniques that eliminate pain, and the filters we have so animals never reach more than 60 days old still having horns.

All employees involved sign in to the meetings, after which the sign-in sheets are scanned in and emailed to our office so a copy of the training documentation can be saved on the server.

At 3:30, on the drive back to my office, my phone starts alerting me of our weekly stat sheets being emailed from the dairies. Every week, the dairies email out a spreadsheet to our dairy team that includes pertinent health, production, reproduction, feed intake and maternity statistics.

This sheet has been a valuable tool to use to quickly assess health and production changes on our dairies on a weekly, rather than monthly, basis.

Not only does this help me prioritize problems and monitor solutions we have implemented, but more importantly, the employees and managers on the dairies look at these numbers weekly and can identify problems quickly. I will find time later this afternoon to review the statistics.

Just before I reach my office, I receive a call from Dr. Paul Rapnicki, a former professor of mine who now works for Elanco. We are working together with one of our dairies to determine if we can evaluate treatment success rates from our DairyComp 305 data, starting with clinical mastitis.

We have adjusted our protocols and data entry in order to facilitate this, and we discuss working through some of the mechanics in order to make sense of the information we are entering. If we are able to truly start evaluating treatment success rates, it would unlock a world of potential that we have not had in the past.

We would be able to move from published university trials, field trials and anecdotal evidence to empirical evidence on the cows in our dairies.

There is nothing more frustrating than debating feelings and beliefs with our treatment crews as we discuss protocol changes because we are unable to figure out the effectiveness of a product on our cows in our system using data.

Through the development of a systematic, automated system for evaluating treatment efficacy, we will be able to make sound decisions about new and existing product use based on data, which I find very exciting.

After the conclusion of our phone call, around 5 p.m., I turn my attention to returning emails and other phone calls that have come in during the day.

These include an email forwarded to our operations crew about a one-pass scraper for the alleys in the cow pens, an email regarding the upcoming National Mastitis Council meeting in January and some emails to vendors setting up meetings in the coming days to discuss their products.

At 6:15 p.m., I head for home, excited about what our teams have accomplished today and ready to keep pushing tomorrow. PD

00_spangler_conrad

Conrad Spangler
Veterinarian

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