Michaela Norheim
Ashley Swanson, Jake Green, and Michaela Nordheim

Persistence Pays Off

It’s not like Michaela Nordheim has a one track mind. But if she did, bovine medicine would be at the top of the list.

A third-year student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nordheim actively seeks out classes and other opportunities as it relates to the care of beef cattle. Growing up on a beef cattle ranch near Walla Walla, Washington was the driving force in her professional goals.

So naturally when she became a veterinary medicine student at Iowa State, she focused her energies on bovine medicine. She has already taken four courses on the subject and plans on tracking towards production animal medicine in her fourth year rotations. She also sought out advice from Dr. Terry Engelken, associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine.

So when a beef-focused position in the newly created Bovine Veterinary Internship Program (BVIP) was offered, Nordheim was first in line to sign up.

The program gives veterinary students the opportunity to collaborate with leading veterinarians in the bovine veterinary medicine industry while not only learning the principles of herd health and management, but designing and executing bovine field trials. Nordheim's internship position was sponsored and funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica.

Nordheim was one of six students to participate in the summer BVIP program. While participating in the internship, she worked closely with two other veterinary students on a feedlot lameness project. She was also responsible for spearheading a survey of confined cow-calf operations to better understand that production system.

“I really enjoyed working on these projects,” Nordheim said. “I wanted more hands-on experiences and the opportunity to learn more about the beef industry in general.

“It was great to get a different perspective on the beef industry outside of my home state of Washington.”

In the feed lot lameness study, Nordheim and her fellow Iowa State veterinary students surveyed Iowa veterinarians and producers to determine what goes on in feedlots, particularly looking at the hairy heel wart, an ulcer that develops on the back heels of the cows. By the time the study is finished, 100 biopsies of the lesions will be taken from all over Iowa. A third aspect to this study will look pens of feedlot animals’ feet throughout their stay at an Iowa feedlot.

For the confined cow-calf survey, the team traveled across the Midwest to look at the impact of this new production method. Confined cow-calf operations are being developed in the Midwest as farmers put more and more pasture land into row crops.

The summer internship also featured a tour of stocker and backgrounding units in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, along with a visit to a small packing plant in northeast Iowa. This gave the team a comprehensive look at the entire cycle a beef animal will go through – from a cow-calf operation to a stocker or backgrounding unit to a feedlot and finally to a packing plant.