What was the worst thing to some clients about Overton Veterinary Services (OVS), Lexington, Neb., building a new facility? That it was maybe a few miles further away from their farms. What was the best thing? Just about everything, including a much larger, modern practice with cattle working facilities, the addition of several veterinarians and staff, a building housing an inventory of custom mineral mixes, and the addition of a beef nutritionist.
The almost-50-year-old practice was started in 1964 by Larry Hauptmeier, DVM, in Overton, Neb. Bob Larson, DVM, who has been with the practice since 1974, says a group of local businessmen and farmers/ranchers urged Hauptmeier to begin his career in Overton where he initially practiced from his garage.
“Dr. Hauptmeier built a clinic in 1966 with an addition in 1973,” Larson says. “Dr. Hauptmeier’s animal health knowledge, common sense and work ethic laid the foundation for a strong foodanimal practice.” A very physical practice which thrives today with five veterinarians and a beef cattle nutritionist.
Roy Gehrt, DVM, joined the practice in 1992 and serves as CEO. He says one of the strengths of the practice is that each veterinarian has a different personality, capabilities and areas of interest. “It’s a place where we work well together, bounce questions off of each other and provide the best service we can. One of the mainstays to our practice is that we try to offer anything that is needed in community for our clients. We’ve built relationships with clients and have been welcomed into their homes. That has been an important aspect to this profession that I’ve enjoyed.”
Lance Kizer, DVM, joined the practice in 1994 and spends most of his time doing cow-calf work, including reproductive ultrasound and embryo transfer. John Lawton, DVM, joined in 2006 and he focuses on cow-calf work, reproductive ultrasound and small animal medicine. Jared Walahoski, DVM, came aboard in 2008 and spends the majority of his time doing feedlot consulting and cow-calf medicine. Gehrt enjoys cow-calf and equine work which extends to the practice’s contract services for the Bureau of Land Management wild horse and burro facility in Elm Creek, Neb., which houses about 400 animals. Gehrt makes a visit there twice a week to look over the horses and burros and provides veterinary care when needed.
In the last 12 months, the practice has done over 1,000 bull soundness exams, 900 necropsies, 14,000 baby calves processed, 14,000 cow pregnancy exams, 38,000 feedlot pregnancy exams, 7,000+ pregnancy exam ultrasounds and 199,000 feedlot chute events.
“If you look at the labor that is involved, there’s well over 230,000 chute events this business does every year,” explains Bob Coffey, DVM, Loveland, Colo., who has been involved in business management and nutrition consulting with the Overton practice for 14 years. Coffey started keeping these numbers 12 years ago. “It’s important to keep track of these events and compare them year to year for the growth of the business. They tell you where you are making your money and losing your money.”
The practice is organized into 10 profit centers: Cow-calf, Feedlot, Large Feedlot, Bureau of Land Management wild horse facility, Equine (working horses), Swine/Other, Small Animal, Prairie Gold Cow-calf Herd Health Program, Nutritional Services, and Laboratory Diagnostics. Coffey says the cattle services make up about 94% of the practice’s business.
A changing business landscape
Every business must change, adapt and give clients what they want, or it will not survive. The Overton practice has been changing in response to clients’ needs for over 40 years. There are fewer 100-cow herds than there used to be, but there are more herds with 200-300 cows, so services have had to adapt. “If you are going to have a business that you want to grow, you have to understand the customer base and where you need your expertise,” Larson says.
Coffey says many years ago he, Larson, Gehrt and Kizer discussed how they could build a business model and a focus. “The veterinarians didn’t just want to bang a chute all day,” he says. He adds that they took advantage of some business training from Pfizer Animal Health as well as a client survey conducted which helped them assess client needs and gain an understanding of where client expectations and needs were sometimes divergent from their own, and this enabled them to focus more clearly on where they needed to go.
Another key to the practice’s longevity is the varying ages of its veterinarians. Gehrt says there is about a 10-year span of ages between several of the veterinarians. “It’s worked well for our practice because there is a difference in age and personalities. Certain veterinarians just click with certain clients and clients can find that person in the practice they feel comfortable working with. That is the beauty of a multiple-person practice.”
“It’s important that we be able to sustain the practice,” adds Larson. “You have to be able to bring young people into the business and I think we’ve allowed them to do that. We haven’t strapped them down with a lot of debt; they’ve been able to buy into the practice reasonably and maintain a good life style. As some of us get closer to retirement, we need to continue to find people to join this practice.”
A unique feature of OVS is the business model that has allowed business ownership to involve multiple veterinarians without having excessive debt loads, Lawton says.
“The ability to transition and expand ownership as business has grown has been a well planned goal of OVS.” The practice also realized the veterinarians would be able to do their jobs better if many of the business aspects of the practice were handled by a business manager, and they recently hired Kari Printz to do just that. “Kari is taking over the responsibility of running and managing the practice,” Gehrt says. “We get busy doing day-to-day work and it’s essential we have someone who is basically in charge of the business.”
Being able to do more haul-in work at the new facilities, hiring Jennifer Saueressig, PhD, as the resident ruminant nutritionist and investing in a custom built, portable hydraulic Calf Cradle (see practice tip, page 10) that can be used at the clinic or hauled to clients’ operations, have increased services valuable to the client and have been profitable for the practice. “Some of the younger fellows thought we needed this portable Calf Cradle,” Larson says. “We used to work calves through the bars of a gate with our clients’ help and everyone got kicked a few times. I’m amazed at the acceptance of our clients to the Calf Cradle and how many calves are worked through that every year improving safety for the calves and the people.”
Gehrt says some clients don’t have a good working facility and the veterinarians will haul their own portable chute and/or the Calf Cradle to their operations to work cattle. “If we can do a better job in a safer way for the livestock and ourselves, we do that more as a service than a money-maker off of chute rental fees,” he says. “If we can do our job faster, and maintain quality of service, we can get to more places in a day.”
All of the veterinarians at OVS realize that a large practice can’t be filled with separate silos – communication needs to happen between the staff on a regular, formalized basis.
“I’ve been to meetings with other practitioners in multi-vet practices who haven’t sat down and talked to their associates for six months,” Larson says. “It’s like several solo practices in one building.”
Because of that, the Overton practice has made it a priority every Thursday morning at 7 a.m. to hold a meeting with the veterinarians and others. Coffey says it’s a structured meeting. “We talk about finances, the P&L, balance sheet, herd problems, what people have going on that day or that week,” he says. “We try to limit it to an hour and everyone gets a turn, including the business manager and nutritionist.”
Mentors to many
Over the years there are a lot of beef cattle veterinarians and students who have passed through the old and new facilities at the Overton practice whether in formalized externships, or like the group of Iowa State veterinary students who happened to be visiting at the time of Bovine Veterinarian’s visit there.
Larson says they have had students from five countries, three continents and 22 universities. Larson says they try to impart to students the business aspects of the practice and their clients (see practice tips). “It can be a little frustrating for them since we can’t take two hours to do a necropsy or a C-section when the client is standing there. This isn’t school, but we want them to get an idea of what the business is like.”
Gehrt says he has as much fun with the students as they do visiting the practice. “When they are here during calving season it’s good hands-on instruction for them. We can get stuck in a rut as veterinarians so having students here helps us continue to look for new ways or ideas, and we get that from students. It’s good for our practice and good instruction for students, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“We’ve had a ball with every one of them,” Coffey adds. “They have taught us as much as we have taught them. Our mindsets might be miles apart but we still have common ground.”
Marketing the practice
Many practices struggle with marketing their services as well as the knowledge of their staff. Gehrt says creating a good website for the practice and having a presence on Facebook in addition to advertising helps. “It’s real important, especially for the younger generation who looks at Facebook daily. The internet to them is just a way of life and that’s where we have to get better and better, not only in our small animal but our large animal marketing, too. We’ve hired good people who know how to do those things.”
The practice also holds producer meetings and sends out quarterly newsletters. This year’s topics centered a lot on drought conditions and what to look for in cows and body condition.
Being part of the community
Though the practice’s address is now Lexington, they still consider themselves a vital part of the Overton community that has a population of about 500. Veterinary medicine allowed Larson to come back home where he was raised and be of service to the community, even though he wasn’t farming.
“When you have granddad, dad and sons and daughters who have done business with you over the years, it’s a testament to the community, their loyalties and the services we’ve provided,” Gehrt adds.
Gehrt notes it’s important the practice do their fair share of community involvement such as participating with FFA, 4-H, local boosters, school board and more. “There is always some way we can be more involved to offer financial support and time and effort to be involved,” he says.
“When I was in school an equine professor said it’s important to understand that to be successful, you need to do the common things uncommonly well,” Gehrt says. “That is what our clinic has taken on as a motto.”
One important thing for Overton’s growth has been the recognition that technology is here to stay. Coffey says the practice has eight laptop suitcases that go to the field and are set up chuteside that are hooked up to the scale and with built-in software for RFID, record identification, weights and other information.
“A lot of this came about because of Dr. Larson’s vision knowing we needed to start tracking a lot of this information. I like crunching numbers and tracking data so this has worked well.”
Overton Veterinary Services has had double-digit growth nine out of the last 10 years, Coffey says, and it’s not by chance. “Some of it has been by luck, but much of it has been by design. We have a good client base and we’ve developed profit centers by knowing where we’ve been and where we need to go.
Overton Veterinary Services, Lexington, Neb., was established in 1964. At the practice are six veterinarians, a nutritionist and 10 other staff.
• Roy Gehrt, DVM
• Lance Kizer, DVM
• John Lawton, DVM
• Jared Walahoski, DVM
• Bob Larson, DVM
• Bob Coffey, DVM
• Jennifer Saueressig, PhD
Overton Veterinary Services specializes in cow-calf production, backgrounding stocker cattle, and feedlot consulting and production, in addition to providing equine and small animal services. Visit the practice at www.overtonvet.com and on Facebook.
Hiring a nutritionist
It’s not uncommon for a large dairy or feedlot to hire a nutritionist, but there aren’t a lot of veterinary practices that have done it. Overton Veterinary Services, Lexington, Neb., however, had a different idea when they hired Jennifer Saueressig, PhD, over a year ago to work mainly with their cow-calf clients.
“We felt nutrition should work hand-in-hand with veterinary medicine,” explains Roy Gehrt, DVM, of the practice. “As veterinarians, we have basic knowledge of nutrition and balancing rations, but we wanted an in-house professional. It’s been a real practice builder, and clients are comfortable calling Jennifer about rations and managing nutrition, especially with the drought. She has been a real added bonus to our practice.”
Saueressig works mostly on the cow-calf side with herds from 250-1400 cows, but does a little work with backgrounding yards and some smaller feedyards (2,000-5,000 head) with rations and inventory control. She also does data management looking at health data, carcass data and implant protocols. “For some feedyards I’m the liaison between the feedyard’s nutritionist and the Overton veterinarians to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Saueressig says.
“Nutrition is mandatory in this cattle practice,” adds Bob Coffey, DVM, who previously has done nutrition work for the practice. “We interviewed 25 nutritionists, narrowed it to five, and one of our questions was what do you think about working with veterinarians?”
Coffey says Saueressig was given a template to start with and in 14 months she has grown the nutrition services fourfold. “The clients really like her. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have, they need to like you.”
The practice’s Bob Larson, DVM, says it’s important that nutrition blends with veterinary medicine. “We don’t solve all problems out of a bottle of vaccine or antibiotics. Hiring Jennifer as our nutritionist has been a good addition.”