Virginia Cattlemen Honor Extension Veterinarian

3/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

ROANOKE, Va. — The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association recently presented Dr. William Dee Whittier with the 2013 Cattle Industry Service Award for nearly 33 years of leadership as a member of the faculty of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

Whittier is a professor of production management medicine and a bovine specialist in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the college. He is also the Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist for beef cattle for the college.

His research interests are applied bovine internal parasitology, applied bovine reproduction, and beef cattle marketing and disease.

“Dr. Whittier has made profound contributions to the Virginia beef and feeder cattle business,” said Jason Carter, executive secretary of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association. “He is a proponent of the Beef Quality Assurance program and one of the architects of the Virginia Quality Assured program for feeder cattle marketing producers.”

Carter said Whittier has provided “just plain good Extension advice for producers and associations.”

“Dr. Whittier provided tremendous purpose to the Virginia beef cattle business,” Carter said. “He is a well-deserving recipient of that award. We appreciate that he has chosen to make Virginia his home.”

Whittier said he is considered a charter member of the college faculty because he was hired before there were any veterinary students at the school, which trains veterinarians for the states of Virginia and Maryland. About four years after joining the faculty, he became Extension veterinarian as well.

The dual roles proved to be a balancing act, Whittier acknowledged, but he sees it as a positive.

“I feel it has given me some credibility,” he said. “I need to go out and do and see in order to fight problems, to be on the cutting edge.”

During his career at the vet school, Whittier has done it all — teaching, labs, clinical and work in the field.

“I wouldn’t qualify now (to be hired),” he said. “As universities have become bastions of specializations, I’m a generalist. The system doesn’t make a generalist. I felt like I’ve managed to keep myself a generalist.”

He earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1979 from the University of California-Davis and his master of science in micro-computer education in 1983 from Virginia Tech. Prior to joining the college in 1980, he completed an internship in large animal medicine and surgery at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Asked what he considered his biggest contribution to Virginia agriculture, Whittier thought for a while before answering.

“I think I have tried to be responsive to clients, students and the industry. I’ve tried to provide education and service to meet the needs at the time.”

Whittier discussed his work with artificial insemination, noting he developed synchronization systems that were doable in beef cattle herds. This kept the costs and time in line with potential returns, he said.

“It’s been rewarding to work with vet students who will be working with food animals,” he said.

Whittier said a large percent of the food animal veterinarians working in Virginia now are people with whom he worked as they went through the college.

During his years at the college he has seen a number of changes, among them technology, the changing size and body types of animals, and an increasing number of female veterinary students.

“We have some really neat technology tools we didn’t have,” Whittier said. “The concept of the PC was new when I got to Tech.”

Now the university is computerized and computers are a basic tool for the vet students in the classroom, lab and out on the farms.

He said beef cattle are bigger than when he came to the university, and more is being asked of dairy cattle. Herds are bigger as well. All these factors contribute to making disease control more of a challenge, he said.

“When you ask them to do more, you put more pressure on them,” Whittier said. “You have to work harder to keep them healthy.”

Whittier said when he was in vet school, 80 percent of the students were male and 20 percent were female. Those figures have completely reversed today, with 80 percent of students being women and 20 percent men.

He said he tells the female students that they can do anything that the men can do, but because they are not as big and strong they have to be smarter about doing it.

Whittier said he was not going to make a judgment about whether the shift from male to female is good or bad. He said the women have taught the vets to think about pain and the men have taught the women to be more efficient.

The ambulatory veterinary service Whittier was hired to develop is still an integral part of vet education at the college. The service is offered to farmers within 40 miles of the Tech campus. The hospital dispatches a typical vet truck with a member of the veterinary faculty and usually one or two of the vet students when a farmer calls for help.

The college charges rates competitive with other large animal vets in the area. The rotation, which every vet student at the school must go through, is a teaching tool, giving the students real-life experience.

Whittier served as an educational adviser and was also on the founding committee for the Virginia Academy for Food Animal Practice. In addition, he is a member of the Southwest Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Computer Society, the American Association of Extension Veterinarians, the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians, the National Association of Agricultural Extension Agents and Phi Kappa Phi.

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