The fourth and final year of vet school began and I found myself
slowly adjusting to the constant yo-yo of two-week rotations and
all night emergency shifts. The months of summer came and went and
before I knew it August had arrived and my externship was about to
begin. I was to embark on the longest journey of my life-to a
land halfway around the world; to one of the most southern (but
still populated) latitudes on the planet; to a place with no other
description than paradise; to a place called New Zealand.
After flying for over 24-hours at long last I landed in
Queenstown at 8:50 am on August 18th, 2012. It was to be a
four-week mixed animal externship near the southern most tip of the
South Island, which is larger, but significantly less populated
than the North Island. The entire country of New Zealand with
its population of 4.4 million could inside of Texas three times.
The livestock- mostly sheep, beef and dairy cattle-outnumber the
human population 10:1. The Southland and Otago provinces, which
provided the setting for my adventure, are largely agricultural
with hundreds of small dairies and sheep stations nestled against
the pleasant rolling hills.
I stepped out of the aircraft onto the tarmac and took in the
crisp, clean air. The Remarkables, with their barely snow-capped
peaks, loomed over plush valleys of frolicking spring lambs.
Rachel, my host, was there to pick me up and I was whisked away on
a circuitous 2-hour drive to the small town of Gore.
In New Zealand, they speak English but many of the
words are different so a language gap still exists from time to
time. Convenience stores are called "dairies". Farms with
milking parlors are also called dairies. "Tea" is an informal
dinner but can also mean tea the drink. Rubber boots are
known as "gum boots". A speculum for examining a horse's mouth is
called a "gag". A herd of sheep is called a "mob" and of
course there is the driving on the left side of the road.
August marked the end of winter and the start of spring in New
Zealand, which meant that I had arrived right on the heels of
calving season. I spent most of my time at the VetSouth clinic in
Gore- a busy small animal practice and large animal ambulatory
service- where true to its name, calving season provided calvings a
plenty. New Zealand's dairy industry operates on a seasonal
breeding program. Most, if not all, calves are born within one or
two months of each other and, therefore, all cows must be bred and
come into calf within a very short period of time after
The traditional Southland cow is a sort of Jersey-Fresian mix
known as a Kiwi cross. They are fairly small and the average adult
is the size of a small Friesian heifer. The Kiwi cross, being
lighter on their feet, experience less lameness than a larger
framed cow in New Zealand's wet, muddy conditions. Their small size
is key as it also prevents them from sinking into the soft pasture
whereby destroying it.
If I wasn't on a calving call, helping
with a c-section or down cow, I was running sheep up a race to
collect blood for trace elements, vasectomizing rams, running
fluids on dehydrated calves, bandaging up wounded horses and
vaccinating pigs for Leptospirosis. I even got to spay a cat at one
of the VetSouth sister clinics in West Otago.
I didn't get to spend much time working with the small animals,
or better known as the smallies, but the short amount of time I did
get to spend was informative. While largely a farming community,
great value was placed on the working dogs and many orthopedic
surgeries were performed on a day-to-day basis. Two breeds of dogs
largely populated the "smallie" kennel: Border Collie bred heading
dogs and massive Huntaways.
Four weeks flew by quickly and the time arrived to return
home. To all the supporters in my life who encouraged me to
dream big and travel abroad whenever possible, I am continually
grateful. I would also like to extend a special thanks to the
international travel office whose contribution made the trip
financially possible. Reflecting on my experience, I will always
remember the cordiality and warmth of the technicians,
veterinarians, and office staff that made me feel at home so far
from home. I will forever treasure the advice and mentorship I
received during that time and feel blessed to have found such a
rich experience in the most unexpected of places.