When Kat Wood graduated from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine last spring, she never expected she’d be wading in several feet of snow to visit sow farms and filling her mobile phone with state veterinarians’ phone numbers, but it’s a first year in practice she wouldn’t trade.
“As a new grad, there was definitely an adjustment period while I transitioned from a student to a practicing veterinarian in a new part of the country,” Wood says. “But they are a very supportive group of people to work with.”
“They” is Christensen Farms, headquartered in Sleepy Eye, Minn. One of the largest family-owned pork producers in the U.S., CF spans the Midwest and includes facilities in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and South Dakota.
The pork production company currently operates four feed mills, manages 145,000 sows on 44 farms, and oversees more than 350 nurseries and grow-finish sites.
For Wood, who hails from a mixed farm with 700 head of farrow-to-feeder pigs, 100 cow-calf pairs and 88,000 chickens in North Carolina, this past year wasn’t her first in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” After her first year of veterinary school, Wood took an internship with Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minn.
“My first introduction to Christensen Farms was during that internship, and it was a great experience,” Wood says. “I liked the culture of a family-owned company, the progressive swine industry in the Midwest and the good mentorship program it provided me.”
The 28-year-old now oversees 30,000 sows in Illinois and 16,000 sows in Minnesota, and has found herself wearing many hats in her new job.
Production beyond health
“The vet team at CF has the unique opportunity to be involved in all aspects of pork production, which goes beyond pig health. We also focus on human and food safety within our system, training programs and education, biosecurity and filtration, and antibiotic stewardship and measurement. We are very involved in helping develop company programs and strategies behind the scenes, as well as on the farms,” Wood says.
Wood has already helped a few farms manage porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae outbreaks, but this is nothing she didn’t expect to see her first year in. As an undergrad at NCSU, she conducted research projects with veterinarian Jeremy Pittman, Smithfield Foods, on porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, just as North Carolina was starting to break with the virus in 2013.
The background in disease management helped prepare Wood for her current role, which is heavily focused on biosecurity and filtration.
“The majority of our sow farms are fully filtered, which was a foreign concept to me growing up in North Carolina,” Wood says. “Every day we look for ways to improve our biosecurity practices, and it’s not unusual for me to check filter banks for leaks during my normal herd health visits.”
Since Wood came on board with Christensen Farms in June 2018, the young veterinarian says the biggest eye-opener has been how much she has been involved in foreign animal disease planning.
“We’ve been working closely with the state groups in Minnesota to help develop industry African swine fever response programs and management of a foreign animal disease,” Wood says.
That involvement has reaffirmed Wood’s confidence that the U.S. pork industry will bounce back if ASF should enter the country. “Failure has never really been an option for the hog industry,” Wood says. “Our success in disease management and elimination has proven that.”