Class of 2021 Story: Finding a Home on the CVM Farm

Class of 2021 Stories

The following by Caitlyn Mullins is the fourth in a series of Class of 2021 stories running through May 7 leading to the CVM’s oath and hooding ceremony on May 10.

Read all of the stories here: https://cvm.ncsu.edu/tag/class-of-2021

When classmates, professors or others in the veterinary field learn that I hail from (the great state of) Ohio, and especially when they hear I attended THE Ohio State University for two degrees, I often am met with somewhat puzzled looks.

“Why did you decide to leave your in-state school and go to NC State College of Veterinary Medicine?” That’s the common question.

While I had several reasons at the time, it has not been until recently, after nearly four years of veterinary education, that I realized one of the smallest reasons became the most important. 

While I had an interest in food animals at the outset of vet school, my experience with ruminants – especially cattle – was limited. Armed with a definite lack of practical experience but an insatiable desire to work with and learn more about ruminants, I obtained employment as a student worker at the CVM’s Teaching Animal Unit (TAU) during my first year. 

It was that step that forever imprinted a cloven-hooved stamp on my heart.

I remember my first several training sessions well. Did I know anything about calving out cows? No. Feeding calves? I only knew they liked milk.

Or how a milking parlor worked? All I remember is there seemed to be a lot of steps where one could mess up. My fingers and wrist struggled to perfect the coordinated dance of seemingly impossible movements needed to hand-milk (or “strip”) a cow.  

The dairy manager was patient and tolerated my questions and awkward moments, of which there were many. It was not long, though, before I was working whole milking shifts solo and taking care of all the animal species at the TAU on the weekends. Much of my free time (i.e.: time not spent studying) was spent working or just visiting the dairy cows, for whom I had developed a particular fondness.

Then there is Mimo, a very average cow who stole my heart from the moment she entered this world in November 2018. 

Mimo

Mimo is in the graduation week spirit. Photo by Madeline Buddendorf

Mimo, affectionately named after mimolette cheese, had numerous challenges. From the Christmas Eve I had to take her as a calf to the hospital for treatment to the day she calved and required assistance, I was there for them all. Throughout these challenges and more, I came to love the goofy little heifer.

When the day started to verge on the overwhelming, I knew Mimo is out there, probably mooing incessantly for her grain (cows get hangry, too). She continues to make me smile, whether in person or from afar.

Throughout my two years (and occasional shifts I could squeeze in during fourth-year vacations) of working at the TAU, I grew as an animal caretaker and now feel better prepared to understand food animal producers’ practical concerns. It was also the first time in my life I felt like I made an important contribution to an organization, and that was incredibly fulfilling. 

I also solidified my commitment to advancing dairy cattle welfare, building on my master’s work studying animal welfare in food animal species. NC State is incredibly fortunate to have a resource such as TAU literally right outside our backdoor. 

When the day started to verge on the overwhelming, I knew Mimo is out there, probably mooing incessantly. She continues to make me smile, whether in person or from afar.

They say to keep your mind open when you enter veterinary school, as you never know where it may lead. For me, that could not be a truer statement, as my career trajectory was directly influenced by my time and experiences at the TAU.

I look forward to the day in the near future when I can see my favorite black-and-white bovines on a daily basis, instead of just looking through the (nearly endless) picture albums of beloved TAU dairy cows on my phone.

And so, after reflecting on how profoundly the TAU changed my life during my four years of schooling, I now start my answer to the question of, “Why NC State?” with the most important reason: the Teaching Animal Unit and the wonderful dairy cows, especially Mimo, who inspire new possibilities in the minds of those who seek to find their veterinary passion.

Caitlyn Mullins is from Beavercreek, Ohio, and focused on food animal medicine, especially involving cattle, at the CVM. After graduation, she will pursue an internship in livestock medicine, surgery and field service at Colorado State University.