Illinois Veterinarians Deliver
In the spring, Dr. Heidi Grooms has her hands full – literally. As a veterinarian, she works with Arthur-area farmers to ensure safe delivery of their calves, foals and piglets. She considers the season a very busy time in a very satisfying profession.
“The breeding process is a big part of my large animal practice,” Grooms says. “For some farmers I work with, I do herd checks each month to determine if the animals have been bred and if there are any problems. Most of the work is done through palpation, but I also have portable ultrasound equipment that I can use, if needed.”
Her veterinary knowledge and the investment in diagnostic tools make Grooms a valuable member of a farmer’s team.
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“Heidi is a partner in keeping my animals healthy,” says Phillip Mast, who owns a family dairy farm in Arthur in central Illinois. “She is aware of the latest techniques in dairy health and also has the technology to get answers. Her work has made a difference in my operation and my bottom line.”
Mast explains that in the dairy business, a low somatic cell count (cells that make up the body, except for reproductive cells) means a farmer will get the best price for their product. The low count signifies healthy cows with high-quality milk, for which processors will pay a premium.
“I was having problems with higher somatic cell counts,” Mast says. “I called Heidi and she worked hard to diagnose the problem. I was amazed at what she was able to do. Since then, I’ve been able to get those premium payments, which makes a big difference.”
Grooms explains how they did it. “First, we worked hard to get the somatic cell counts down in individual animals. Then I worked with another veterinarian in Ohio who provided guidance on how to check the milking machine itself. It turns out that was part of the problem as well.”
A Problem-Solving Partnership
Problem solving serves as just one of the ways veterinarians add value to a farmer’s operation. They also administer vaccines, evaluate nutrition and care for sick animals. Grooms could treat a cow for an infection at 8 a.m., evaluate a horse for lameness at noon and deliver a calf at midnight.
The job runs 24 hours a day for Grooms, who became a veterinarian in 2008 after graduating from the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine.
“My husband and I bought the practice in Arthur five weeks after graduation,” she says. “It had been owned for 50 years by Dr. Robert Graham, who had taken care of our family dogs when I was growing up in Sullivan. During vet school, I worked with him and performed surgeries. Dr. Graham was a wonderful vet, and my goal has been to build on the tradition and reputation that he established.”
Under Grooms’ ownership, Graham Veterinary Clinic has grown as a mixed animal practice. Grooms specializes in care for large animals, and Dr. Deb Owens provides care for small animals.
“I always knew I wanted to be a vet,” Grooms says. “The interest in large animals evolved more in high school and college. I was involved in [school agricultural organizations FFA and 4-H], and I showed pigs. My uncles have beef cows and horses, and my husband’s family, who I’ve known since high school, raises hogs. Plus, growing up in an Amish community, I have always been around horses. Caring for these animals and working with farmers is very comfortable for me.”
Prevention Pays Dividends
Grooms calls the relationship with her clients a partnership. “The farmers care about their animals and also rely on their good health to make a living,” she says. “As a large animal vet, you can make a big difference by seeing the whole picture. I don’t want to just react and come out when an animal is sick. My goal is prevention because that better serves the animal and pays dividends to the farmer.”
That’s why she has invested in additional technology, such as a portable X-ray machine and even a gentle machine for filing a horse’s teeth. She considers that focus important because the health of the horses in her area impacts the livelihood of local farmers. Grooms works diligently to get on top of small health issues quickly before they turn into bigger ones that can negatively affect animals and the farm operation.
“Heidi is really knowledgeable, and she cares about my animals and my operation,” Mast says. “When she gives me advice, I follow it because she knows what she’s talking about and has the best interest of my animals and my operation in mind. She has earned my trust and confidence.”