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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Jan. 26, 2007

The veterinarian among many

by Teddi Barron, News Service


The Holsteins at the Ames Dairy Farm are just a few of the 8,861 "patients" scattered among nine facilities and under the care of university veterinarian Bruce Leuschen. Photo by Bob Elbert.

It is perhaps a little known fact -- beyond the halls of Curtiss, Kildee and Veterinary Medicine, that is -- that the university is the proud owner of some 8,861 livestock. To be precise, we own 4,880 pigs, 2,230 poultry, 1,354 cows, 347 sheep and 50 horses on nine teaching and research farms. And, these animals need to be pricked, stitched, pulled, culled, vaccinated, diagnosed, examined, observed, tested, operated on and screened.

That's all in a day's work for Dr. Bruce Leuschen, who has held the position of university veterinarian since last March. But minding the health of nearly 9,000 animals is just a fraction of what he does. His job is part country veterinary doctor and part teacher. And Leuschen fits the position perfectly.

"When I saw the job opening and position description, I thought it was written for me," Leuschen said.

After earning his DVM at Iowa State in 1983, Leuschen worked in rural Northeast Iowa as a mixed animal veterinarian (a veterinarian who works on all creatures, great and small) with an emphasis on dairy production medicine. From 1994 to 2006, he co-owned the Postville Vet Clinic. He also mentored Iowa State veterinary medicine students doing preceptorships, taught producers about disease prevention and reproductive health at Dairy Days, presided over the county veterinary association and the local church congregation and coached AAU basketball.

Now, Leuschen's home is the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department. He also is part of the animal science department and the team that oversees the livestock farms near campus. (The dairy operation is in Ankeny until the university's new dairy farm is completed in September.) He visits one or more of the farms daily.

"The farms have different veterinary needs. The swine nutrition farm is a closed herd -- for biosecurity reasons, animals are not brought in from the outside. So they don't need me there much," Leuschen said.

"At the sheep teaching farm, however, things are gearing up right now. They're getting ready for lambing, which starts soon. So I'll be out there more often to take care of their obstetrics and the needs of the baby lambs," he said.

Johne's watch

At several of the farms, monitoring Johne's disease keeps Leuschen busy. Johne's disease is a contagious, chronic and possibly fatal infection that affects primarily the small intestine of ruminants.

"It's a slow, insidious disease," Leuschen said. "A young animal may get it and not show clinical signs until adulthood. And when they do show signs, there's no treatment. It's a costly disease for the livestock industry, requiring continual observation. We culture the feces of every cow to monitor the disease."

Each state has developed its own Johne's control program modeled after a federal guideline document. ISU's beef teaching farm has the distinction of being the first farm in Iowa's program to gain a Level One Negative Herd status, meaning all of the animals have tested negative for the disease at the time of the test.

The dairy farm is perhaps the most demanding of Leuschen's time and skills. "It keeps me busy. Today, for example, I'm going there to look at a cow that I did some teat surgery on to make sure it's going okay. I'll also pull some blood samples from some new calves to monitor some disease issues," he said.

In the classroom

When not doctoring ISU's animals, Leuschen is responsible for several teaching activities -- both in and out of the classroom. Although he presents lectures to undergraduate students in dairy science, most of his teaching-related tasks are in the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department, which is updating its dairy production medicine curriculum and fine-tuning other student learning opportunities.

"We're putting together a dairy team and building the curriculum, making sure it covers all the skills students will need to be successful in their careers as dairy practitioners," Leuschen said.

Field experiences

He's also still involved with preceptorships. To hone hands-on skills, senior veterinary medicine students take preceptorships for credit. For a minimum of two weeks, students train in private veterinary practices. These are more than ride-along experiences, however. The college must approve participating practitioners, and students must fulfill stringent requirements, such as the preparation of case logs and writeups.

"We're setting up preceptorship criteria and working with the mentoring practice to make sure they understand what is expected for student learning," he said.

And, he oversees the D-PIKE program, which gives dairy industry experience to first-, second- and third-year veterinary students who may not have had any previous exposure to dairy cows. The 10-week summer program consists of rotations through different sized dairies and a dairy-focused veterinary practice. It gives students an opportunity to learn about the dairy industry through all phases of the production cycle.

But Leuschen's most significant interaction with students is during visits to ISU's farms. That's when he can pass on the doctoring skills learned during 22 years of treating animals.

"Every day, senior veterinary medicine students ride with me during farm visits. It's one of their rotations in the large animal hospital," he said. "I really enjoy interacting with them and teaching them some skills that I've acquired over the years. It's the most fun part of my work and one of the big reasons I came here."

Among the practical skills he passes on to students is fetal sexing, one of his specialities. Between 60 and 80 days in gestation, a bovine fetus can be sexed using ultrasound. Fetal sexing is a management technique that can help producers with culling and marketing decisions. Leuschen does fetal sexing for the dairy farm and the beef teaching farm, where students can learn how to perform the test. A teaching video is in the works.

Giving back

Even though the Iowa State position was a perfect fit, Leuschen admits it's been a big change.

"Probably the biggest adjustment is actually being responsible for curriculum development and course ideas," he said.

And the meeting thing is a new experience. "There are more meetings here than in private practice! If there weren't so many meetings, that would be fine," he laughed.

Although he does miss the interactions he had with his former clients in Postville, Leuschen enjoys developing new relationships with faculty, students and farm managers.

"I love the university atmosphere. It is a neat opportunity to return to Ames and to give back to the students," he said.


"I really enjoy interacting with [students] and teaching them some skills that I've acquired over the years. It's the most fun part of my work and one of the big reasons I came here."

- Bruce Leuschen