Farm Horizons, Feb. 2006

Veterinarian Ken Peterson visits all types of farms

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Ken Peterson, DVM, of Cokato not only treats dogs, cats, hogs and dairy and beef cattle, but also hobby farm animals, such as sheep, goats, horses and even pot-bellied pigs.

Most of Peterson’s hobby farm clients raise elk and deer, he said. Peterson, a Brownton native, tests the animals for tuberculosis and brucellosis, an infectious disease that causes abortions in the females.

He’s had to travel as far as Sauk Centre and St. Cloud to care for them, although there are several ranches in the Dassel Cokato area that raise elk and deer. Usually, the ranches raise them for slaughter, but some send the elk and deer, the ones with the big racks on them, out of state to hunting facilities, said Peterson. He lives north of Cokato and has been a veterinarian for 42 years.

Another veterinarian clinic that frequently treats hobby farm animals in the area is in Lester Prairie. Richard Kiekhaefer, DVM, and Andrew Wilke, DVM, also treat sheep, goats and alpaca.

Peterson recently assisted a client in sending some elk to Tennessee, “which turned out to be a big hassle,” said Peterson, a veterinarian for 42 years.

Elk and deer aren’t as domesticated as other large farm animals, so it’s not easy to get close enough to treat them. Peterson said some ranchers have set up confinement systems where the elk or deer moves through a series of successively narrower chutes until the veterinarian can get close enough to the animal to conduct the tests.

A rancher near Howard Lake has a hydraulic system of chutes that makes treating his elk the easiest in Peterson’s entire practice, said Peterson.

Another option is to shoot a tranquilizer dart or a blow dart, which works well when it’s not windy, into the elk, he said.

Sometimes the animals wake up too early, though. Peterson told about an incident in which he tranquilized an elk. The animal had a huge rack, and Peterson wanted to cut it off. The elk laid down to sleep, so Peterson thought it was safe to go into the 12-foot by 12-foot confinement area.

Suddenly, the elk revived and stood up. Peterson felt a stab of fear, imagining how easily the elk could gore or trample him in such a confined space.

“There isn’t a lot of room in there. We looked for a way out,” Peterson said.

While the vets were scrambling to get out of the pen, the elk stood there and looked around a bit, and then laid back down to sleep, Peterson said.

Peterson also trims the feet on pot-bellied pigs or gives them vaccinations. Pot-bellied pigs tend to suffer pneumonia and diarrhea, he said. Families with pot-bellied pigs he has treated are in Waverly and Monticello.

A woman from north of Cokato had been told that her pot-bellied pigs were litter box trained so she tried to keep them in the house.

“The pigs didn’t know that. It didn’t take long before they were outside,” Peterson said.

In the spring, Peterson goes to hobby farms and vaccinates or files down the teeth of horses, he said.

Peterson cuts goats’ horns or trims their feet.

“Usually they’re self sufficient so you don’t have to do a lot to them,” Peterson said.

Sheep at hobby farms sometimes have trouble with lambing. The lambs are turned wrong and the sheep can’t deliver them.

“They’re trying and trying and nothing happens,” Peterson said.

Peterson loves animals, though. His favorite part of veterinary medicine is dealing with animals and their owners, he said.

When Peterson got out of the military service, he wanted to farm and raise his own animals. His father and brother ran the family farm, though, so Peterson went back to school to become a veterinarian. He was both a veterinarian and farmer in the Red River Valley until 1983, when he opened a veterinarian practice in Cokato at 14105 Highway 12, SW.

Peterson and his wife, Gladys, have three children, Theresa, now deceased; Warren Peterson of St. Paul; and a daughter, Susan, in Marshalltown, Iowa.

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