Monday, June 2, 2014

Veterinarian shares a world of agricultural knowledge

New University of Alaska Fairbanks veterinarian Lisa Lunn sees her role as a bridge between farmers and veterinarians. “It’s daunting to be the first person in this role,” she said.

Lunn is an associate professor in the UAF Department of Veterinary Medicine and the food animal veterinarian for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

Lisa Lunn visits a jersey cow at Northern Lights Dairy in Delta Junction during a field trip for natural resources management students.
She and her husband, Kevin Krugle, arrived in Alaska a couple of months ago from Grenada, an island in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. “I hope I can help educate the producers who don’t have veterinarians close by,” Lunn said. “I’ll work with veterinarians and state veterinarians to fill the gaps in knowledge.”

Raised until the age of 12 in Massachusetts, Lunn’s life changed radically when her mother married a dairy farmer and the family moved to Cobleskill, New York, to live on one of the area’s last working dairy farms. “That started my life in farming,” Lunn said. “I absolutely fell in love with cows. On our small farm we treated animals with respect. It was a lot of work but I loved it.”

Lunn always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian and she joined FFA to continue her interests. Meeting young farmers from huge operations was an eye opener for Lunn because she realized that small family farms are not that different from corporate farms. “Whether it’s 20 cows or 2,000 it’s the same management,” she said. “Some cows have names and some have numbers.”

Back then the FFA conventions were held in Kansas City. “On a whim I applied to Kansas State University,” Lunn said. She earned a degree in animal science, then a doctorate of veterinary medicine. “That was the greatest decision I ever made,” she said. “I learned large animal and small animal medicine. It’s so well rounded.” She did her residency at Michigan State University then became a faculty member there.

For the past five years she has been teaching at St. George’s University in Grenada. “I was exposed to Third World small ruminants, a very different form of agriculture,” Lunn said. “They were happy for the knowledge.”

It was in Grenada that Lunn became captivated by the One Health Initiative, a movement to unite human and veterinary medicine. “We owe it to the world to share our knowledge,” she said. “This could be important in rural Alaska.”

While Lunn admits it’s going to be a challenge to serve the entire state, she plans to survey producers to see what their needs are and then tailor online webinars to meet those needs as best she can. She wants to have an easily accessible question and answer tool on the Extension website.

Lunn wants to encourage Alaska youth to get involved in 4-H and FFA and will work closely with the state veterinarian to try to keep everyone informed on how to be productive and have a safe food supply.

“We’ve got a big challenge,” she said. “My to-do list gets bigger and bigger.”

In the veterinary medicine classroom, she has big plans also. She’s thrilled about the life-size simulated cow and horse the department will get. This way students will be able to examine the internal organs without using real animals. “The modern way is to train on simulators till students gain good skills,” she said.

Offering Alaska students the opportunity to study veterinary medicine in Fairbanks is a win-win in Lunn’s opinion. “To go in the lower 48 is expensive and they may not give the education needed for Alaska,” she said. “We’ll put an Alaska spin on it. Raising cattle in Alabama is very different from Alaska. And there are also sled dogs, reindeer and bison.”

Lunn believes the state doesn’t have enough large animal veterinarians to cover the farms dotted all over. “I hope to be a resource and work with veterinarians to get information out about herd health and offer continuing education for veterinarians,” she said.

Lunn is so fascinated with jersey cows she’d have one for a pet if she had the room. Meanwhile, she has three very spoiled cats.

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