August 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Celebrating 45 years of large-animal medicine

Martens shares memories of career

By STACEY SMART | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer

Dr. Al Martens takes a break from his work July 25 at Waupun Veterinary Service in Waupun, Wisconsin. This summer, Martens celebrated his 45th anniversary of being a veterinarian.


WAUPUN, Wis. — When asked what his favorite thing is about being a veterinarian, Dr. Al Martens said, “The people.”
This vet’s closest friends were made on the farm as he became much more than a veterinarian to his clients. He was a person who farmers confided in about all of life’s problems, not just those concerning their four-legged creatures. As a result, clients became lifelong friends.
“I can look back and say, I treated all these cows, but the memories are the people,” Martens said. “They were the best part of it. The farmers were my best friends, and I learned so much from them.”
This summer, Martens celebrated 45 years of being a veterinarian.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, like you’re at the end,” Martens said. “But I probably won’t ever retire. I like looking forward to coming to work every day. I enjoy the challenge.”
Martens no longer makes farm calls. Instead, his focus has shifted to business management in the last five years, and now Martens spends most of his time at the clinic.
“I’ve had three rotator cuff surgeries, two back surgeries, and some other orthopedic procedures, and I don’t want to get hurt,” Martens said. “I have a lot of arthritis in my hands and elbows, so I’m not able to run the ultrasound either.”
Martens grew up in a small town north of Detroit, Michigan. His dad was an auto engineer, and Martens said he did not have much dairy exposure other than visits to a friend’s farm and his second cousins’ farm in Cambria, which is how he later came to work in Waupun. Martens attended veterinary school at Michigan State University, which is where he met his wife, Bev, who became a small-animal veterinarian.
“I really wanted to work with dairy cattle; I’m not sure what the inspiration was,” Martens said.
Martens became a veterinarian in 1978 at the age of 23. Fresh out of vet school, he was the second vet to join the practice started by Dr. Jim DeYoung in Waupun that would become known as Waupun Veterinary Service in 1989. On Martens’ first day at the practice and after only two hours on the job, DeYoung left for a week-long vacation.

Photo submitted
Dr. Al Martens stocks supplies in his first vet truck in 1978 in Waupun, Wisconsin. Martens became a veterinarian at the age of 23 and became close friends with many of the dairy farmers who were his clients.


DeYoung’s faith in the new veterinarian was strong, and in 1979, he made Martens a partner in the clinic. Martens had four days off every month — two Saturdays and two Sundays — and received two weeks of vacation each year.
“We worked more hours back then but had big breaks,” Martens said. “We were slower in the summer and had a lot of free time in the afternoons. The day is busier now for vets, scheduled with calf work, nutrition work and other specialty tasks.”
Martens said every week brought something good.
“Sometimes, it might just be having a live calf,” he said. “You might have struggled with a DA surgery, not knowing how it’s going to turn out, but then you find out a couple days later that the cow is doing great.”
In the earlier part of his career, Martens also worked on pigs, draft horses and veal calves.
“It was really fun working with those animals,” Martens said.
After having their first child in 1982, Marten’s wife started a small clinic at their house.
“While the kids were growing up, she saw clients during the day, and in the evenings, we did surgeries together,” Martens said. “It was neat — the kids would do their homework in the clinic as Bev and I did surgery on dogs and cats.”
During his career, Martens witnessed many changes in the dairy industry. The average farm size was 55 cows when he started. Today, the clinic has two 8,000-cow herds. Herd checks took less than an hour, and afterward, Martens would join the family for breakfast.
“That was always special,” Martens said. “Now, herdsmen do the herd checks at 50% of our farms.”
Martens said the days when the vet was a close family friend of the farmer are not as evident anymore, especially on larger farms.
“Today, the herdsman separates the vet from the owner,” he said.
Communication has also changed a lot since Martens’ early days as a vet.
“We used to use a two-way radio to communicate,” he said. “We had one at the vet’s house and one at the office. We shared the radio with a school bus service. We’d be talking about disgusting stuff like uterine and udder infections, and the kids could hear it on the bus.”
Distance with the radios was limited, and Martens said such a service would now only cover 10% to 20% of the clinic’s coverage area. Now, communication is done via texting and a program that enables all the vets in the office to see everyone’s schedules.
For 25 years, Martens logged about 25,000 miles every year. From freezing rain to blizzards, he went out in all kinds of conditions.
“For years, we never had a day that we didn’t run a call,” Martens said. “Even during the terrible blizzards of the early 1980s, we ran a call every single day. We never closed. One time, all three of our vet trucks got stuck in the snow, and a farmer got us out.”
Martens said emergencies were once common, but now, there are not nearly as many.
“Things are so different today in that farmers handle a lot of emergencies themselves,” Martens said. “Herdsmen are really good, especially in the bigger herds. So now if we get a call, it’s a C-section, fetotomy or uterine torsion —something really complicated.”
The clinic began doing milk culturing in 1983 and expanded their lab around 1993 to include two full-time technicians who do culture work that comes in from all over the state. The clinic also does cultures on bedding sent in from across the U.S.
“I’m always looking at new business opportunities,” Martens said. “We use a lot of technology and are always thinking, ‘What can we do different?’ That’s how we grew the practice.”
When Martens read about a new blood test for detecting pregnancy in cattle 15 years ago, he wanted to pursue the technology even though the clinic had just purchased five portable ultrasound units for a substantial amount of money.
The other vets at the clinic resisted the blood test idea, thinking it would put them out of business with the money just spent on ultrasounds. But after his partner, Dr. Monty Belmer, saw the blood test in action while doing nutrition consulting work in Pennsylvania, he said, “We have to do it.”
“It’s been huge for our clinic,” Martens said. “Now we have a full-time tech on it.”
The clinic expanded offerings in its blood lab to include testing for bovine viral disease and sheep and goat diseases, while also becoming federally licensed to test for Johne’s disease.
“The labs have been a home run for our clinic,” Martens said.
Martens has watched the practice grow to now include 15 large-animal vets, eight of whom are partners.
“Being partners to these vets keeps me here today,” Martens said. “We have a bunch of young people working at the clinic. Half of our vets are less than 10 years out of school. They’re the future — not me — and I like mentoring them.”
When he is not working, Martens’ hobbies encompass his love for nature and the great outdoors. His adventurous spirit has taken him to the wilderness of Alaska to go white water rafting, kayaking and fishing.
“I’ve been on some crazy raft trips and done some crazy wilderness stuff,” Martens said.
This veterinarian also loves to hunt, especially with dogs at his side, and enjoys hunting pheasant, duck and grouse. Martens is also an avid hockey lover who coached the sport for 30 years and still plays twice a week.
“From skating to coaching, hockey has been huge in my life,” Martens said.
Martens has no plans of slowing down as he enters his 46th year as a doctor of veterinary medicine. With many fond memories wrapped into a fulfilling career, Martens has no regrets — only gratitude.
“I have no complaints,” he said. “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”


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