The MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences has awarded Dr. Rachelle Bennecke with the Birth of a Purebred Award and Drs. Kayla Clark and Alexander Strauch with Early-career Food Animal Veterinarian Awards. These veterinarians received their awards at the Department’s Large Animal and Equine Practitioners’ Reception on Friday, December 3 at 6:30 p.m. during the 2021 Michigan Veterinary Conference.
“We were fortunate to work with the Food Animal Practitioners Committee of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association to select the recipients. Still, it was incredibly difficult to select the awardees this year. A lot of amazing practitioners were nominated. These awards are the highest honor bestowed by the Department upon Michigan-based food animal veterinarians. It was so exciting to honor our fellow veterinary professionals and the critical work they do in ensuring food security and safety. I am really glad I got the opportunity to honor these amazing vets,” says Dr. Annette O’Connor, chair and professor of Epidemiology for the Department.
Dr. Rachelle Bennecke is the veterinarian and owner of Stoney Hills Veterinary Service, LLC (aka Team Management Concepts), a dairy-focused practice where she began working just two days after graduating. In 2016, Bennecke took over the company, which works predominantly with large dairies throughout the state of Michigan and hosts dairy-focused externships for veterinary medical students. In addition to general herd health work, Bennecke focuses on fresh cows, calves and heifers, and protocol development. She also works with horses and small ruminants, for which she launched an ambulatory practice in 2003.
What does receiving the Birth of a Purebred Award mean to you? When I was younger, I felt like I was very good at a couple things–academics and basketball. In my “grown-up” life, it’s often so hectic and busy. I often feel average at best in all the things I do, whether as a vet, parent, spouse, or friend, because despite working hard at all of them, it’s a constant juggle. This award is very humbling because it means others see me and my work as more than average. I see a lot of names of vets who also have won this award, people that I have known and looked up to over the years. I’m honored to be added to that list and to be a female dairy vet that future generations can look up to.
Why are you passionate about working with food animals? I don’t come from a food animal background, and most of my outside-of-work relationships are with people who are completely disconnected from animal production. I love that I can be an intermediary and educator to those people and let them know how hard people and animals are working every single day to provide safe, high-quality food for them. I love working with the people on dairy farms–they are some of the most genuine, hard-working individuals you will ever meet. I’m working hard to improve my Spanish-speaking skills because I think it’s so important to be able to communicate with everyone on a farm and build relationships. I was drawn to dairy medicine for the continuous nature of regular farm visits and being an integral part of improving animal health and having a positive impact on the farm’s productivity.
How do your production medicine programs make important contributions to the food animal world? We focus on a team approach to dairy health and production. All the vets within the practice visit all our farms and utilize our unique abilities and areas of interest to bring the highest level of care to each farm. We emphasize continual training and education at all levels of the farm. These training programs have allowed our farms to achieve high levels of animal welfare and production by maximizing cow health.
Dr. Kayla Clark is a food animal veterinarian and a partner at Sterner Veterinary Clinic in Ionia, Michigan. Clark provides valuable tools and skills for veterinarians and producers through on-farm continuing education. Additionally, she is the job shadowing and externship coordinator for Sterner Veterinary Clinic’s food animal clinic for high school, undergraduate, and veterinary students. Throughout the past year, she participated in two webinar lectures regarding salmonella in dairy cattle for Dairy Herd Week and the California Veterinary Medical Association’s continuing education offerings. Clark also contributed to a Salmonella Dublin short article published in Bovine Veterinarian. Clark has guest lectured on milk quality for Montcalm Community College and presented veterinary medicine career talks for high school students. Her industry interests include calf care; milk quality; cow, calf, and beef management; small ruminant medicine; and on-farm training.
What does receiving the Early-career Food-animal Veterinarian Award mean to you? I am extremely honored to have been nominated and chosen to receive this award. I hope that I have made an impression on new and future veterinarians, as my mentors did on me. I hope that I have shown them the impact we can make with our clients, the animals we care for, and our community.
Why are you passionate about working with food animals? While I enjoy all animals, I have always been partial to cattle, and felt that I could have the biggest impact by working within the agricultural industry. Working with food animals and our producers, we have an ability to make a difference with animal health and welfare, and are a frontline to protecting the food industry. I grew up on a small dairy farm in Vermont, where I developed an interest in veterinary medicine by watching our herd veterinarian when I was young. I found that becoming a veterinarian was a perfect way to combine my love for cattle and desire to work with a variety of producers to help them succeed.
How does leadership and volunteerism as a veterinary professional enrich your life and the lives of others? Being an active member in the veterinary world and my community is something I truly enjoy. It is my chance to make an impact on those around me like those before me. I have been fortunate to have had great mentorship throughout most of my pursuit on becoming a veterinarian and as a veterinarian. Dr. Joe Klopfenstein and Dr. Mark Hilton are two mentors that have influenced my career path in many ways. They taught me to lead by example, listen to your clients, and support their goals. They taught me the importance of teaching the next generation. Dr. Kevin Jeffers and the large animal veterinarians at Sterner’s provided me with the skills and the knowledge necessary to serve the community I have become a part of. These veterinarians have taught me the importance of how a good mentor can have a positive impact on the people for years to come.
With mentoring students and new graduates, I hope to show them the impact veterinarians can have on our clients and the industry. It is rewarding when you see the students’ satisfied smiles for completing their first surgery or a high school student being able to observe an exploratory surgery or assist in a calving. I want students to be excited to join our profession, work with livestock, and feel like their contributions make a difference. I hope to make the transition of the new veterinarians in our practice easier through hands-on mentorship. It has been a pleasure seeing their confidence increase from case to case over time and watch as they start to pursue their own interests. Teaching includes sharing my faults, failures, and lessons learned in hopes that they will become better veterinarians.
Why do you prioritize your own continuing education? There is always something to learn in veterinary medicine; our career is always changing and evolving, and we must continue to do so. Through continuing education, my goal is always to learn something new and bring back information that I can share with others. There are many experiences and perspectives out there that will make a difference for others. I collect and compile my new information into the never-ending “tips and tricks” file that I share at the clinic. I want to help my producers surpass their goals, learn new things, and always challenge themselves to do better.
Why is supporting the future agricultural workforce important to you? It is our job to help shape the future leaders in the agriculture industry, from a future farmer to a future veterinarian. We are advocates for both the animals and the producers we serve. We need to educate others while supporting the industry in order to protect it.
Dr. Alexander Strauch is the layer veterinarian and biosecurity manager for Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, Inc., where his work focuses on biosecurity and poultry medicine, production, and management. In addition, Strauch is a guest lecturer for undergraduate and veterinary medicine students at Michigan State University, as well as a faculty advisor for the University’s Online Master’s of Science Program in Food Safety. Strauch also is an industry advisor for current food safety research, both at MSU and beyond. His personal interests include livestock medicine, data analysis, and veterinary and business finance.
What does receiving the Early-career Food Animal Veterinarian Award mean to you? I am touched. I feel as if the mentorship that I’ve provided to veterinary interns was truly meaningful. Eggs are one of the most valuable facets in the realm of affordable, nutritious food.
Why are you passionate about working with food animals? I want to leverage my degree to provide medicine for the masses. My passion is to ensure animal health, human health, and food safety.
Check out Dr. Strauch in Merck Animal Health’s “The Heart of Agriculture.”
How do leadership and volunteerism enrich your life and the lives of others? I stood on the shoulders of giants during my veterinary education, and I aim to immediately continue this important tradition during the early years of my career and beyond.
Why is the College’s mission — Learn. Discover. Heal. Protect. — important to you? Animal health, human health, and environmental health are inextricably and intimately intertwined. Protecting the health and well-being of livestock positively affects the health and well-being of the world at large.
Check out Dr. Strauch in Merck Animal Health’s “Continuous Improvement in Animal Welfare.”
Why do you prioritize your own continuing education? I am a life-long learner–it is part of my soul. This was instilled in me by my mother, Diane, a schoolteacher by trade. By formally extending my Spanish language skills, I am able to meaningfully communicate with a large and invaluable portion of the agricultural workforce. Additionally, formally expanding my business acumen through my current MBA program enables me to enact big-picture process improvements that directly and indirectly improve the management of the livestock under my care.
Why is supporting the future agricultural workforce important to you? Responsible agriculture allows life as we know it and life as we envision it to come to fruition. I deeply believe that there is an untapped pool of veterinary students that would thrive and enjoy working in the agricultural realm. I feel as if my work means something–something that is bigger than me. I think I was born to do this, and I get to personally feed my family and community the fruits of my labor. This is my love language.
The Birth of a Purebred Award is presented to an alumnus of the College or a private practitioner who works primarily in food animal medicine and has demonstrated zeal for advancement in clinical and/or production medicine, as well as excellence in student mentorship. Specifically, the award recognizes Michigan-based food animal veterinarians who have made outstanding and sustained contributions to the Michigan food animal industry through their development of production medicine programs; support of the College’s education, research, and/or outreach missions; training and mentoring of new food animal veterinarians; and leadership and volunteerism in organized veterinary medicine and/or broader society.
The Birth of a Purebred Award was initiated following the donation of a statue of the same name by Drs. Richard Short and Thomas Glasser of Bad Axe, Michigan. The statue is located in the foyer area of MSU’s Veterinary Medical Building.
The Early-career Food Animal Veterinarian Award is presented to Michigan-based food animal veterinarians who have made significant contributions to the field of Production Animal Medicine through their commitment to continuous improvement of skills and knowledge, innovative approaches to everyday problems, contributions to training future agricultural workers, and leadership and volunteerism in organized veterinary medicine and/or broader society.
The Early-career Food Animal Veterinarian Award was established in 2021.
For more information about the awards and awardees, contact the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.