As the agricultural industry grows, so does the need for industry leaders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for large animal veterinarians is increasing. This is primarily due to the fact that there are fewer practitioners trained to treat large population animals. This shortage is impacting rural areas in Texas which are dependent on the health of their livestock. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University is hoping to meet this industry need with its development of the Department of Veterinary Science that will focus on population-preventative medicine.
“Most of the livestock [operations] in this area are fairly large and there are lots of animals,” Interim Department Chair of the Department of Veterinary Sciences, Michael Ballou Ph.D., said. “We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.”
After a year of planning, CASNR named Ballou the interim department chair in 2017. A California native, Ballou found his way to Texas Tech in 2007 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2002 and a doctorate in nutritional biology with an emphasis in immunology in 2007, both from the University of California-Davis. His nationally-recognized studies helped earn him the title of CASNR associate dean for research in 2014. His background in research has helped him in the development of the new department.
Aiding the Industry
The newly formed department is a graduate program only. The program will offer master’s and doctorate degrees, both of which are research-based degrees. The department will offer a traditional on-campus program and distance programs. The primary focus of the department will be to train individuals in the population and preventive veterinary medicine. The program plans to attract people interested in pursuing a research career with a primary focus in farm animal medicine.
Ballou said the veterinary sciences department will provide a greater focus on research and outreach efforts in food, animal, equine and wildlife health and well-being, and is intended to meet the educational and research needs of the animal-agricultural industry and the regional veterinary community.
We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.
“Our focus is mainly going to be looking at the population data and understanding how we can improve the health of feedlot cattle and dairy cattle,” Ballou said. “Our research programs will depend on collecting data from local operations, and they have the data we need.”
Ballou said this program will stand out from the rest as it will focus more on population and preventative medicine in the livestock industry. This is different than clinical medicine, which would suggest diagnosing one sick animal. Population preventive medicine looks at overall livestock production and focuses on the incidence of disease, how many animals are getting sick, and what factors could contribute to that.
Setting the Standards
Ballou said he and his team want to focus on integrating all aspects of the college’s current departments into the curriculum. He said there will be portions built into the curriculum that will include natural resource management, agricultural communications, agricultural education, agricultural economics, animal and food science, and even public policy. The graduate program will focus on all aspects of the veterinary science industry, not just medicine.
“We are trying to look at ourselves as more of a centralized department, but also relying on and working with other departments in the college,” Ballou said.
Ballou said the online-based program will be particularly appealing to those already who have a doctorate of veterinary medicine and are practicing veterinarians. This program will allow them to continue to work in the industry and also gain new skills that they would not have learned in vet school.
“When you go to vet school, they teach you how to be a veterinarian,” Ballou said. “They teach you how to deal with one animal that comes in that is sick. They don’t teach you how to deal with large population data. So, being an online program, a veterinarian can be in practice and still articulate through this program in two years. It’s going to teach them different skill sets to understand large populations.”
Ballou said those with international veterinary degrees will also be attracted to the online program as they would be able to continue their research while abroad. This program will additionally target people who may have a Ph.D. and are working in the industry, such as animal or livestock health nutrition management, who want to understand how to look at health data as well.
The department is currently in the process of getting the required approval to open its doors to students in the next years. Ballou said he and his team have been working endlessly to get curriculum developed and proper accreditation from the university.
Although the department itself has been approved, Ballou said it will still take a year or two to get everything finalized and placed where it needs to be. As of now, the curriculum for the graduate program can be found on a piece of scratch paper displayed in Ballou’s office in which he and his team have made notes and developed what they think will be the most beneficial to the future students. CASNR does not know when the department will see its first round of graduate students in this department, but Ballou and his team are working to make this program the best it can be to set it apart from other veterinary programs. This department will help shape our industry leaders in new ways.
Not Just Medicine
It is important to note that the veterinary science department will not be associated with the College of Veterinary Medicine that is currently in the works at Texas Tech through the university systems. Although the future vet school will be a link to the main campus and present resources to CASNR, the two are unrelated. Ballou said the two will essentially be focused on different aspects of the industry.