Dr. Cassandra Gewiss goes over herd health results with Chase Harmsen of B&B Dairy in Waupun, Wis. Gewiss has been the Harmsens’ regular vet for the past six years.
Dr. Cassandra Gewiss goes over herd health results with Chase Harmsen of B&B Dairy in Waupun, Wis. Gewiss has been the Harmsens’ regular vet for the past six years. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
    WAUPUN, Wis. – Ever since she was a kid, Emma Schaffel knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. For Cassandra Gewiss, the realization came as a freshman in college when she was studying to be a history teacher. But for Jackie McIntyre, it was not until she had graduated college and spent three years working as a certified public accountant that she knew her calling in life was to be a veterinarian.
    All three veterinarians now practice out of Waupun Veterinary Service in Waupun, Wis. The clinic serves 300 dairy farms and has nine large-animal vets on staff – one-third of whom are women.
    The number of female veterinarians practicing on large animals – specifically dairy – is on the rise.
    “My class in vet school was 80% female,” McIntyre said. “And in dairy/food production, it was more than 50% female.”
    According to a report by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, this is a nationwide trend. The report stated that the vast majority of students enrolled in veterinary schools today are women. The last time enrollment was split equally between men and women was in 1986. Women are taking over all facets of veterinary medicine – from small animal to large animal and everything in between. As a result, the dairy industry is seeing more and more women veterinarians.
    “We can do any job our male counterparts can do,” said Gewiss, who grew up on a 55-registered-cow dairy farm in northern, Illinois and is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. “We might do it differently, but we get to the same endpoint.”  
    A veterinarian for seven years, Gewiss is a partner at Waupun Veterinary Service and also a mother of two boys – Pierce, 3, and Emmett, 1.
    “Dr. Gewiss has been coming to our farm for six years,” said Brent Harmsen of B&B Dairy in Waupun, who farms with his son, Chase, and milks 310 cows with robots. “She is the first female vet we’ve had doing our herd health, and never once have I doubted her expertise. She does an excellent job.”
    Schaffel, who grew up in New Jersey, not far from New York City, but far from farm country, has been practicing veterinary medicine for about two years after graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Growing up, she spent a lot of time around horses and envisioned herself becoming an equine vet, but instead, discovered a passion for dairy as an animal science major at Clemson University.
    McIntyre graduated from UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in May 2018. She is a local, born and raised in Randolph, Wis. Although her parents did not farm, her babysitter, who is a current client, did, giving McIntyre plenty of exposure to farm life while growing up.
    Although they work in a profession formerly dominated by men, these ladies rarely have issues with farmers thinking they cannot get the job done. Rather, they find farmers are more concerned with a veterinarian’s age and experience level than whether they are a man or a woman.
    “In the earlier days of my career, if farmers were skeptical, I found it was because I was young and inexperienced – not because I was a woman,” Gewiss said. “Being new in this field is definitely harder than being a woman in this field. When you’re fresh out of school, you don’t have much experience. You find yourself in new situations all the time, plus every case is different. It’s only natural for farmers to doubt your ability.”
    Fiercely determined, Gewiss, Schaffel and McIntyre never quit until they get the job done and have proven their competence many times over, finding no situation too challenging to handle.  
    “We never give up,” Schaffel said, “no matter what comes our way.”   
    Just a few months into being a veterinarian, Schaffel was on call for the weekend by herself for the first time when she got called to help with a difficult calving.
    “It took a long time, but I finished the job and never needed to call for backup,” Schaffel said. “The farmer later told me that when he saw me get out of my truck, he wondered who else he was going to have to call to get this done. When you get the work done successfully, you earn the farmer’s respect and trust.”
    Gewiss had a similar experience when she was 8 months pregnant.
    “I got called to help with a tough calving that turned into a C-section,” Gewiss said, “And I nailed it. The farmer admitted to me afterward that he was worried when he heard I was the one coming.”
    But he soon realized his worry was for naught, when the young, pregnant vet performed a successful operation.
    “It’s really rewarding to do things the farmer might think you can’t,” Gewiss said. “It’s fun to prove them wrong.”  
    Schaffel said her height can sometimes pose a challenge, but she rectifies that by standing on a stool. On the flip side, her small arms, hands and fingers can be used to her advantage – giving her the capability to use two arms to assist in a calving and making her an expert pig puller.
    “When I shadowed at the clinic and watched the male veterinarians, I thought I might not be able to do what they were doing because they were much bigger than I was,” McIntyre said. “But then Cassandra started working here, and I could see she was so adept at doing things. I soon learned there are multiple ways to accomplish the same goal. You don’t need brute force.”
    Gewiss, Schaffel and McIntyre have special niche interests in addition to their dairy work. Gewiss performs laparoscopic artificial insemination on small ruminants, such as sheep and goats. She also specializes in male reproduction and even works with a bull stud on assessing fertility. Schaffel also works with sheep and goats, along with pigs, horses and camelids. She is fluent in Spanish and does on-farm training and translating as well. McIntyre’s focus is on herd health, specializing in calves and heifers.
    As much as they love animals, Gewiss, Schaffel and McIntyre said what they enjoy most about their work is the people.
    “I love animals and working with cattle, but it’s the people I love the most,” Gewiss said. “Farmers are great. They’re down to earth, hard-working and have a good sense of humor. Some of my closest friends are farmers.”
    The ratio of male to female vets in dairy is definitely changing. Chances are if a farm has not yet used the services of a woman veterinarian, it will one day soon.