Farm Horizons, May 2002

Larry Russell recalls three decades of veterinary work

By Ryan Gueningsman

"You never know what you are going to encounter when you get to the farm," former Lester Prairie Veterinary Clinic owner Larry Russell said.

In his 31 years of being a veterinarian in the area, Russell has experienced many interesting things, as well as established a strong connection with the local farmers.

Russell grew up in Montevideo on a 240-acre farm. His family had dairy cows, beef cows, chickens, ducks, and, at times, sheep.

"In those days, that was the farm," Russell said. "You had a little bit of all kinds of livestock. The major emphasis was on dairy. When my dad was farming, we milked probably 25 cows back then."

He graduated from Montevideo High School in 1964 and further pursued his interest in veterinary medicine.

"I ended up working for the vets at the Montevideo sales barn. Back then, in those days, most of the pigs had to be vaccinated for hog cholera, so I was the fella that was responsible for catching and holding the pigs while they were vaccinated."

That fired Russell's interest in becoming a vet.

His agriculture instructor at the time had just graduated from the University of Minnesota and started out in pre-vet. However, he didn't make it into vet school.

"His recommendation to me was to go ahead and take pre-vet, apply for vet school, and if you make it, fine, and even if you don't, with my interest in agriculture, there's going to be something out there."

Russell did just that. He went two years at the University of Minnesota, applied for vet school and was accepted. He graduated from vet school in 1970.

Post-graduation, Russell took a job for one year in Wadena.

"While I was there, I got married to my wife, Barb, in 1970," Russell said. "It was decided we weren't going to make our home in Wadena. We were going to look for something else."

Russell began to job hunt for other openings. Osakis, Lester Prairie, and Arcadia, Wis., were the choices he had it narrowed down to.

"I think what really intrigued me about Lester Prairie was being close to the Twin Cities, and there were a lot of dairy cattle here at the time ­ and that's really what I desired to get into," he said.

Upon his arrival to Lester Prairie, he became associated with Dr. Bill Schwarze, who hired Russell for the job.

"Dr. Schwarze was my mentor," Russell said. "I worked for him for a long time, and you just want to be gracious to him for letting me have the opportunity to own the clinic."

Russell jumped right in. He handled calls for cattle births, sore feet, and anything else a veterinarian tends to.

"The first year I was here, I was working on a weekend, and my wife had given me a call and said the name was Zitzko," Russell said.

"So, I looked in the plat book and couldn't find it. I happened to be driving past this farmer's place where the name was Getzko, so I pulled in and asked them if they happened to have a vet call in, and he said 'yup, this is the place.' What are the odds of that happening?"

Several years later, Russell had an experience that not too many people run across.

He was called upon to deliver a two-headed calf, only at the time the call was made, the farmer didn't know the calf had two heads.

"It was a call that came in the middle of the night, and was the third day after I bought the practice from Dr. Schwarze in 1974," Russell said. "In the process of delivering his calf, I found that it was a two-headed calf, coming backwards. That was a case that I spent a couple of hours trying to deliver that calf because it was malformed."

"In the end, I ended up cutting the animal into pieces inside of the cow. The hard part was, until I knew it had two heads, I would go in with one hand, grab ahold of the eye-sockets, and pull it around - I couldn't get it to come. I'd go in with the other hand, and found the same thing. I finally realized that it had two heads."

"Luckily, I was able to put a chain between the two heads and pull that calf through," he said.

The vet clinic in Lester Prairie, now located on McLeod County Road 1, used to be on Elm Street, where Russell's house is today.

The clinic still has that two-headed calf mounted on the wall.

In the late 1970s, Russell hired Bill Fynboh, who was in the meat inspection industry at the time.

"He was in practice with me too, until he retired in the late '90s. He was with me over 20 years, and I really enjoyed having him as a partner with me in the practice," he said.

The majority of work for a veterinarian consisted of handling emergency calls, or "fire engine calls," sick animals, births, milk fever, etc.

Fire engine calls are considered to be so rapid that the vet would go to the farm, do his thing, and be gone within the hour, if not less time.

"Over the period of 30 years, it's really changed a lot," Russell said. "Now, when you're going out to a farm, you could spend a good portion of the day on that farm. You do a lot more consulting-type work, talking about different programs, heifer raising to building design. You're not working with just the individual animal ­ you're working with the whole thing."

Russell said the amount of paper work and computer work has increased over the years too for a vet. Vets have to keep good records of their cases because of laws mandated by the federal and state governments.

Following 31 years of being a vet in the area, Russell's body began to feel the strain.

"I started having trouble with my shoulder palpating, and it just started giving me problems. I was having trouble sleeping at night," Russell said. "Since I haven't been palpating, it's gotten a lot better."

Now, Russell has taken on a new job at Hormel Foods.

"The first of the year I took on a job at Hormel Foods Corporation. I work for the feed division right now. I consult for them on the larger dairies, as well as do some sales work for them, so I have some herds I still work on," he said.

His new job at Hormel enables him to be in touch with many of the farmers whose animals he's taken care of.

"That's part of the job I really liked ­ the communication with the farmer. These people are hard working individuals, and at times they like to sit down and visit, and share some of their experiences as well," Russell said.

Current owners of the Lester Prairie Veterinary Clinic are Drs. Richard Kiekhaefer, Lance Cheney, and Andrew Wilke.

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