The Central Virginian

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All Louisa’s creatures great and small

Posted on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

For an intense 10-plus hour day, Dr. Melinda McCall is either behind the wheel of her well-equipped truck or trudging across fields or working in fenced enclosures examining an eclectic variety of livestock.

Her veterinary practice is based in Louisa County, but spans 15 surrounding counties from Hanover to Albemarle and Buckingham to Stafford. Primarily a beef and dairy cattle-oriented service, she treats alpacas, llamas, goats, sheep, pigs and, on occasion, a client’s dogs, cats or horses for basic vaccinations, if already on site.

Tagging cattle, checking for pregnancy and administering vaccines are among Dr. Melina McCall’s routine tasks.

Tagging cattle, checking for pregnancy and administering vaccines are among Dr. Melina McCall’s routine tasks.

A typical day begins shortly after dawn as McCall dons her coveralls, checks her iPhone to recall the day’s schedule, and then adds any additional medications and equipment to the already well-stocked Port-A-Vet resting in the truck bed.

The day rarely goes without changes, as emergency calls or texts beep on the phone with messages relayed from the office where Holly Reynolds, her office manager, deals with incoming requests.

A particular October Monday began with a drive to farms in Madison and Greene counties. During the trip that eventually led to gravel roads and farm paths, McCall fielded numerous calls which offered advice to other clients dealing with continuing treatments or added clients to the day’s work. Frequent calls to her associate, Dr. Lesley Davis, allowed the pair to schedule who was closer and had more time to handle new appointments.

At the farms, McCall palpated close to 100 cows to determine how far along they were in gestation or to find out if they were open (not pregnant). With the help of experienced farm managers, each cow was caught in the head catch, checked by the veterinarian, dewormed and tagged.

Three hours later, the truck headed to Louisa for routine blood draws to check for brucellosis and to administer tuberculin tests on a small flock of Nubian goats. McCall will schedule a return to that farm in three days to verify that the animals are negative for TB.

Next, an emergency alpaca colic sent the veterinarian to Orange County. An examination and subsequent medications eased the symptoms of the alpaca and the concerns of the owner, but McCall spotted an additional problem – the female’s newborn was not receiving adequate milk.

She bottle fed the cria and instructed the owner on future frequency and procedure. She also looked in on another alpaca with a broken leg that was sporting a blue cast. She will return in two weeks to confirm the healing progress.

Back on the road, and as the phone beeped, McCall and Reynolds discussed the next day’s schedule, and an additional stop was planned for the end of the day to necropsy a goat. More alpacas were treated in Spotsylvania, including taking fecal samples and blood. Three reluctant farm dogs got their rabies vaccinations.

In Louisa, McCall examined and prescribed a medication protocol for a lame sheep, then performed the necropsy at a farm close to her Green Springs area office. Still, the day was not complete. The veterinarian recorded charges in the computer so Reynolds could bill clients, and then analyzed the bloodwork and other samples, plus restocked the Port-A-Vet.

A Life-Fulfilling Choice

Few people select their profession as children, but McCall is an exception to that theory. Raised on a Southwest Virginia dairy farm where her father was herdsman, she willingly assisted him with tasks such as birthing and artificial insemination and, whenever possible, rode along with local veterinarians.

“People always said if you are choosing a career, you should do what makes you happy first thing in the morning. I looked forward to time on the farm,” she said. “Being a large animal veterinarian wasn’t considered an easy way to make a living, particularly if you were a woman.”

A basketball standout in high school, McCall, an academic scholarship student, played forward for Queen’s College in North Carolina while earning a bachelor of science degree.

To read the entire story, see the Nov. 14 edition of The Central Virginian.