Clayton Johnson comes by veterinary medicine quite honestly. From the time he was old enough to process pigs and work calves, he was helping his father make calls across west-central Illinois.
“All I have ever known is my dad being a veterinarian,” Johnson says of his father, who has been in mixed practice for 41 years.
The 38-year-old says it wasn’t until junior high, when he started working on local pig farms, that he decided swine was the specific species he wanted to explore further.
“The swine industry is such a small, tight-knit group, and I had been exposed to so many would-be ‘superstars’ in our industry at a young age through my dad,” Johnson says.
“I had such a niche there already built, it was really hard to justify starting that all over when I could really go and build on what I had.”
Jim Lowe, Larry Firkins, John Waddell, Steve Quick and Ken and Dave Maschhoff are just a few of those superstars who influenced Johnson during his early veterinary studies.
Right out of veterinary school at the University of Illinois, Johnson secured a full-time position with The Maschhoffs, an experience he says was a “wonderful eight years” and one he will never be able to repay them for.
“The Maschhoffs never chastised me for making honest mistakes. They always encouraged me as long as I learned from them,” Johnson says. “They put so much time and effort into developing me as a veterinarian, but also grounding me in practical business and financial realities.”
When the opportunity arose to move closer to home and join Carthage Veterinary Service three years ago, Johnson knew private practice was his next step. Joining Carthage as director of health and moving to his current role, partner and veterinarian, Johnson currently oversees 25,000 sows across seven different sow farms. He also has numerous international consulting duties.
He recognizes he’s chosen a turbulent industry for his profession, but it’s something he thrives on.
“That’s always been a culture of change that I’m happy to engage in,” Johnson says. “Like ASF [African swine fever], Chinese pork is showing up on our shores at a shocking frequency. Let’s focus on the things we can control, and ‘What are the things we can prevent to mitigate the threat?’ ”
Johnson says it’s hard to predict the next five to 20 years, because the industry will need to make some hard decisions in America, in terms of, “Are we going to feed the world, or just feed affluent America?”
He also believes the U.S. will eventually have to deal with every disease present sooner or later. However, the veterinarian says the U.S. is fortunate to have the best diagnostic laboratories, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians, nutritionists and geneticists.
“Veterinarian-wise, we are going to have to sharpen our saw when it comes to things we don’t worry about today,” Johnson says.
“The rest of the world is absolutely dependent upon us to improve disease control. Other countries know the faster we get involved, the faster everybody gets an efficacious vaccination, the faster everyone gets better diagnostics and better management.”