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For Scott Crain, improving cattle care for clients is an endless journey of questions.
If you feel like a train is coming at you, you’re tied to the train tracks and a rattlesnake is slithering toward you, the last thing you want to do is panic and try to scare away the snake,” says Scott Crain, DVM. “All that happens then is that you get snake bit before getting hit by the train.”
Though tongue-in-cheek, Dr. Crain believes the analogy is instructive as veterinarians face dwindling cattle and client numbers.
Dr. Crain is founder and owner of Cattle Health Management Network (CHMN), a feedlot consulting practice at Meade, KS.
Dr. Scott Crain
Up front, Dr. Crain is one of those folks who peers generally regard as brilliant or nuts.
There’s not much middle ground.
He’s unconcerned one way or the other.
“Our industry has been shrinking for years. We all know that. That’s seeing the tracks,” Dr. Crain says. “Then you hear the train whistle; that’s the client you lost last month because of cattle and producer attrition.”
Viewing the World Differently
Dichotomous impressions of Dr. Crain stem in part from the fact that he views the world, cattle care and the veterinary profession through a different lens than most.
“As veterinarians, we may be wrong, but we’re never in doubt,” says Dr. Crain with a laugh.
Like other veterinarians, Dr. Crain uses previous experience and science-based evidence to make decisions. When pondering how to improve his decision making for clients, Dr. Crain keeps in mind, “Data is a stick with two ends; science-based evidence on one end and science-based deception on the other. If you forget that you don’t have all of the evidence, the data can become science-based deception.”
He shares an example.
A couple of years ago, CHMN was seeing a few long-day cattle with no visible symptoms heading to the dead pile. The only thing Dr. Crain could find were signs loosely associated with some sort of an acute bacterial infection of an unknown source, so that’s what he figured it was—unknown. In the same time period, long-time CHMN veterinarian, Nate McDonald, identified in the same class of deads, subtle intestinal lesions associated with mucosal disease and bovine viral diarrheal virus (BVDV). That made no sense to them because the cattle had been vaccinated multiple times with multiple strains of BVDV. Those events percolated awhile. Long story, short, Dr. Crain pulled blood from pen mates of long-day cattle that had died. He had it screened for viruses and bacteria. BVDV strain 1b lit up the scoreboard.
“We’d checked the BVDV box. The cattle were vaccinated multiple times for it. We never knew it could show up in the heart. Everything we thought we knew at that point said that’s not what it could be.” (Read further on about real-time pathogen surveillance.)
Then, some new-arrival cattle were breaking hard. Necropsies showed no lung lesions, but some with the minor heart lesions associated with histophilus. Culture and sensitivity produced nothing, however virus isolation demonstrated an overwhelming level of bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) 1b in the heart.
Dr. Crain believes that assuming you could be wrong means looking for why that may be true. “The opposite of that is assuming you’re right, which means collecting existing data to defend your decision,” Dr. Crain says. “If you spend your time defending your decision, you do nothing to improve. Asking if it could be better is more instructive than trying to prove why you’re right.”
As for unconventional thinking, also consider that Dr. Crain and his wife, Lori, have two daughters—Lissa Leigh, a freshman at Kansas State University, her parent’s alma mater. The other, Bobbie Annie, is a sophomore in high school also headed that direction. Both want to become veterinarians. Though proud his kids want to follow in his professional footsteps, Dr. Crain is trying his best to discourage them from it, at least when it comes to consideration of a traditional large animal or small animal practice.
“Everything is shrinking, cattle numbers, equine numbers, small animal numbers,” Dr. Crain says. “Though animal numbers are shrinking, there are more veterinarians. It costs up to $250,000 to go to vet school. It can take 15 years to pay off student loans; that’s how long it took me.”
Most people ask young people what they want to be or what kind of business they want to own. Dr. Crain asks a simpler question: How much money do you want to make?
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Rather than a job or profession defining him, Dr. Crain has always been more about doing what he enjoys, but making sure that provides enough revenue to live the kind of life he wants. That’s one reason, by design, he’s a serial entrepreneur.
Though CHMN serves feedlots with an annual capacity of about 1.5 million head, saying that Dr. Crain is a feedlot veterinarian is akin to saying Bill Gates is a computer programmer.
In the name of serving his clients, Dr. Crain has developed a range of new products and services over the years, ranging from Cattle Information Network (a data-based feedlot management software system) to real-time pathogen surveillance (and associated development of autogenous and commercial vaccines), to the VeriPrime Food Safety Cooperative (VPFSC), to his latest mobile X-ray-based pneumonia detection system. And, that’s a short list.