Dr. Mark Hilton was born and raised on swine and beef farm near Morristown, Ind. He credits his parents for allowing him to assume responsibility for managing the beef herd at age 16, considering it his best educational event. After graduating from Purdue, Dr. Hilton joined an 80 percent food animal practice in DeWitt, Iowa in 1983 and remained there until 1998. In 1996 he became Dipolmate American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in beef cattle specialty. He was recruited by Purdue to start beef production medicine class and take fourth-year DVM students on food animal farm calls; in 2010 he started teaching an advanced beef production medicine block that is open to DVM students from any veterinary college. Dr. Hilton has been married for 34 years to Denise and has two sons, two 2 daugher-in-laws and two 2 grandsons.
In a discussion with veterinary students, what would you say to guide them toward beef or dairy practice?
Big picture answer. I would ask them if they enjoy solving problems, working with farmers and ranchers and devising plans to prevent problems. I did a survey a year or so ago for an article I wrote and these were the top three reasons beef veterinarians loved their work. I assume the list would be quite similar for dairy veterinarians.
I think being a beef cow-calf veterinarian is different from being a feedlot or dairy veterinarian and students need to choose a career that fits their personality. In cow-calf practice I think you have to always be thinking long-term. A suggestion you make today may not happen for a long time because maybe the owner has more pressing issues. Even if the change is made quickly, it may take a year or more to see the benefits. You have to be satisfied with not getting instant gratification. The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) surveys are very humbling to veterinarians as beef cow-calf producers rate their herd health veterinarian very highly in all aspects of sources of advice for their farm or ranch.
In dairy and feedlot practice the huge emphasis is on preventative medicine just as it is in cow-calf practice. That being said, there are more instances of treatment of sick animals in dairy and feedlot. You will be dealing with a combination of 'sick animal work' and preventative medicine. You will be working much more closely with nutritionists which will greatly benefit the animals in your care. Dairy and feedlot owners are historically advanced in record keeping both on a production and economic basis compared to cow-calf producers.
What are some of the most satisfying aspects of your work as a veterinarian?
When I was in private practice in Iowa the greatest joy in my career came from helping producers have a healthier, more profitable herd. Our emphasis was always on decreasng the cost of production, adding value to the product the client was selling, improving or maintaining animal welfare, decreasing labor and improving or maintaining environmental sustainability. When a client would say, "Doc, you really helped me with ___________ (fill in the blank) this past year", that was just the best.
Now that I teach students my greatest joy comes from seeing them develop as veterinarians and gain confidence in themselves. I tell them my job is to 'push them out of the nest' after they have grown their wings.