On an average day, the large animal hospital houses 25-30 animals. Those animals receive stellar medical treatment from doctors and veterinary technicians, plus an extra dose of attentive care from fourth-year veterinary students. But who provides for their basic needs?
That is where Peter McPartlin comes in. As farm manager, he oversees a team of animal attendants and student workers who not only care for hospital animals, but also for the teaching herd. “We have five llamas and alpacas here, and roughly 15 horses, and two cows,” he says. “There are 30 llamas over at RAIL [the field on Campus Way]. We have a lot of pasture for them there. The RAIL folks check them every day. If they have any problems, we pick them up and bring them here.”
A typical day for McPartlin and his team begins at 6 a.m. with the first hospital feeding. Then they clean and disinfect stalls. A couple of hours later, they can turn their attention to the teaching herd and farm chores. Afterwards, they go back to the hospital for the afternoon feeding.
Between hospital patients and herd animals, the college goes through about 72 tons of hay per year, and about 20,000 pounds of feed or grain.
Horses are, by far, the highest maintenance animals in the teaching herd. “You have a big animal that walks on four little legs, and when they are outside in a herd, they act like a group of teenagers,” says McPartlin. “They are always fooling around.” Sometimes, that creates more work for the farm manager.
“Last month, a mare named Pearl was in a separate paddock with her best friend,” says McPartlin. “I put them there to eat down some grass. She decided that she didn’t like being there, and jumped the fence to be with the other horses.” The fence is four feet high, and Pearl is not a youngster, so she hit the fence and got a big knot on her leg. “I spent one morning fixing the fence she ruined,” says McPartlin.
The horses also get extra care for their feet, from a farrier who comes once a month, and for their teeth, from Dr. Mecham, the herd veterinarian.
In addition to animal care, McPartlin is responsible for keeping the basic operation running. He does everything from repair hoses in the hospital to changing the oil in the tractor. His team even keeps the hospital parking lot tidy.
McPartlin supervises three, full-time animal attendants and about eight, part-time student workers. “The animal attendants are my right hand; I could not do this without them,” says McPartlin. “The student workers are also a valuable part of what we do.”
Some of the student workers come from farms, and have been around large animals before. Others are animal lovers, but need more training to work with the herd. “They maybe had dogs that they loved, and they are thinking about being a veterinarian,” says McPartlin, “but I need to make sure they are comfortable working with large animals before I turn them loose in a stall. They have to be able to read an animal, and understand how it will react under certain conditions, so no one gets hurt.”
One of the things McPartlin likes best about his job is interacting with the fourth-year students on rotation in the hospital. “I walk around the hospital quite a bit, so they stop me and ask for help with the practical aspects of what they are doing. I like to show them what works best.”
His advice often deals with the nuts-and-bolts of hospital issues, sometimes literally. “We have a commercial washer that gets messed up when people leave stuff in their coveralls. I’ve always got screws in mine. I try to remind everyone to turn their pockets inside-out before they stuff them in the laundry,” he says.
Another challenge for the washing machines is the amount of stall debris clinging to everything. “The leg wraps from the horses get full of sawdust, which clogs things up,” says McPartlin. “I saw a student in the hall yesterday shaking one off, so I stopped and said ‘Great job. That is exactly what we should be doing’.”
That kind of positive interaction with people is something that McPartlin consciously strives to achieve. He sees it as part of the OSU mission to create an environment for people to grow.
“As our society has gotten busier, we don’t always watch our words, or are not as kind as we should be,” he says. “I think when you are working with young people, it is especially important. My team and I try to ‘lay out the red carpet’ for their learning.” McPartlin also extends that courtesy to his staff and coworkers. ”Each of us has to take the responsibility to create a positive environment.”