Dr. Frank Anders: 55 years of veterinary medicine
If you go to Crawford, Nebraska and ask for Frances Anders, you may get a blank stare. After a few seconds the light will dawn and you’ll likely hear, “Oh—you mean Doc.”
“Doc” Anders has been a vet since John F. Kennedy was president. His first vet truck cost a little over $2,000. In the 55 years since, he estimates he’s preg-checked half a million cows and seen about as many changes in the world of veterinary medicine.
Anders grew up in Kansas and Wyoming, where his dad worked on ranches and a livestock market, and Armor Creameries, until they closed. There were four in his high school graduating class in Hawk Springs, Wyoming.
Uncle Sam gave Anders a two-year stint in Fort Bliss, Texas, during the Korean War, working on guided missiles for the Army.
“When I come back from the service I decided then I was going to try to become a vet,” he said.
The GI bill paid for four years of higher education. Frank spent two of those years at the University of Wyoming, then four years at Colorado State University. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) program, which is still active today, helped pay for his tuition at CSU. “It wasn’t that much. Out of state tuition in Colorado was less than $100. The whole tuition was probably less than $6,000.”
Before he finished college, Anders met Alice one night when she was out with his buddy. Anders was out with a different girl, but when he came back one weekend and couldn’t get ahold of his regular girl, he called Alice. It turned out that his regular girl was out with his buddy. The switch worked out and his buddy married Frank’s old flame and Frank married Alice with three years left in vet school. Alice worked in administration at CSU while Frank finished his degree, then had three kids—Art, Kent and Taenia—and helped with book work in the clinic.
Part of the education cost assistance program required Anders to return to Wyoming to practice for a year for every year of assistance he received. When he got a job in Edgemont, South Dakota—10 miles from Wyoming—the state figured that was close enough.
He worked with another vet and did mostly horse and cattle work, back when nearly every pasture was dotted with the signature red and white of the Hereford breed, with an occasional Angus or Charolais. The owner of the practice was only five years out of vet school himself, but he’d built his practice up to where he was running day and night—emphasis on night.
Frank recalls one night that was especially memorable, because he couldn’t remember it. “When you get a call and you get up and dress and go to the clinic and get the vehicle out and go down the road a couple miles and wake up, it puts a fear to you. I knew where I was going and I was headed there, but I didn’t wake up until I was headed down the road a ways. When the phone rang you answered it and you got ready to go. After that, if I got a call I would either go drink some coffee or a glass of milk. It would take a few minutes for me to get awake before I’d leave the house. It didn’t happen again because once is enough.”
During Frank’s first fall, the practice got a contract with the state to recertify the state in tuberculosis. “We had to test so many cows for TB. I don’t remember how many thousand we tested that fall…”
Tuberculosis testing required injecting the whole herd one day, then coming back three days later to check for swelling at the injection site, which would indicate the presence of tuberculosis.
Frank remembers a few positives, but once follow-up tests were done, they turned out to be false alarms.
He doesn’t remember exactly what the contract paid–$.50 or $.75 a head for the two trips and hours of injecting every cow and bull in the herd. The pay wasn’t substantial, but it helped pay the bills for a two-vet practice.
There wasn’t a lot of clinic work, with equipment and medicine close at hand. “You done a lot of mileage. You’d drive 2-3,000 miles a month. It’s a big area out there. We covered 40 miles in all directions,” he said. “At that time there was a lot of night work.”
In a time when the phrase “heifer bull” had yet to be coined and heifer calves were weaned at 3-400 pounds, caesareans were a major component of their work. “We did a couple hundred caesareans a year. This last year I had the biggest year for caesareans in a long time—I think I did nine.
“They didn’t even talk about heifer bulls. You tried to get a bull that threw small ones. Then we did some work on pelvic measurements on heifers. You’d find strains of cattle that had much smaller pelvises than others. We’d find a herd and could figure out the bull that was doing it. We could tell just from the looks of the heifer if it was going to have trouble or not. Some of those heifers, the pelvis was so small you could hardly get your hand in with two feet in the pelvis. There was no way they could have a calf normally. We’d do a caesarean and the calf would only weigh 50-60 pounds.”
The ranchers worked with the vets to breed the troublesome pelvises out of the herds, and now they’ve got larger pelvises and smaller calves. “We kind of worked ourselves out of work there,” he said.
Another calving ease trait they tried to breed for was flatter foreleg bones, as opposed to big, round ones.
“This helped and they worked out of the big calves and little heifers,” he said.
Frank also saw the introduction of vaccines, watching the protocol grow from just blackleg to the 5- and 7-way vaccines today.
“We started with some virus vaccines at weaning and that seemed to help. They kept finding new viruses and bacteria that was causing these things. They found out if they used a virus vaccine they’d had less troubles with a bacteria. If you’ve got a virus, you can’t treat it. We’ve got no antibiotic or anything that will work against a virus. So we work on the secondary infection and the body has to take care of the virus,” Frank said.
Before the introduction of broad-spectrum vaccines, sickness in a herd was fast-moving and far-reaching. “We’d run the whole herd through and give them antibiotics, rather than today going out to treat two or three or four. Even today, though, no vaccine is 100 percent. You get up to about 80 percent, is a real good vaccine. Now, if you get in contact with something going on, you’ve only got to deal with 20-30 percent of the herd.”
In those days, ranchers counted on the vet to doctor anything that was sick. “We done most of the work ourselves. That’s why we did so much running. They’d have two or three sick and we’d drive 30-40 miles. That’s when they didn’t have much for medicine—penicillin and sulfa pills, tetracycline, terramycin.”
While the majority of the work was of the bovine and equine variety, in the early decades of his practice Frank worked a lot of sheep. “In the fall you’d write health certs on 25,000 lambs that were going out of state,” he said.
Sheep scab—a contagious disease caused by a mite–was a major issue, so dipping sheep was mandatory. “We had dipping vats around the country. The sheep all had to be dipped, which was quite a job. They didn’t like to go in the water at all. You’d be pushing, and even wearing gloves you’d wear blisters on the ends of your fingers. You’d grab them by the wool and push them in the dipping vat. Some old ewes with all that wool would get so heavy you’d have to go in and dig them out. They just wasn’t strong enough to get up and walk with all that water in their wool.”
With a consistent dipping program, sheep scab—and sheep dipping– became another of those things that exists only in memories.
Frank said in his area of northwestern Nebraska, the sheep are nearly all gone as well, thanks largely to the lack of predator control. “I just moved the last big flock out of here. The coyote has nearly eliminated them.”
Today, at age 83, Frank’s practice is mostly preventative–working with producers on vaccination programs—and emergencies like lacerations, something gets in the fence or steps on a nail or hooks a side. “Practice has changed a lot since I started. It has kind of improved, but you’ve got to change with it. You’re going to have emergencies—you can’t eliminate those.”
Alice was a constant in the vet clinic, frequently answering the phone and handling books and billing. She passed away several years ago, six months short of celebrating their 50th anniversary.
Though plenty busy with his vet practice, Frank has served as a volunteer fire fighter for 46 years, as a member of the rescue unit and as an event veterinarian for all levels of rodeos in the area. He has been on the school board and is a member of the Elks, American Legion and Eagles club. He also participated in Veterinarians without Borders and traveled to Nicaragua to provide veterinarian services there.
A few months ago, Frank was forced to take a brief sabbatical when he had shingles on his feet. “I tried to work with them, but got a staph infection. When you can’t walk, it sure slows up what you can do. I did small animal surgery where I didn’t have to be on my feet. I could get around the clinic here. I couldn’t do the country work.”
He’s working on catching up, now that he’s back on his feet, and has no plans for retiring. “If I retire, what do I do? Veterinary medicine has been my life. I’ve worked at this 24/7. I’ve had some experiences doing this.”
Asked what he does for fun, he laughs and says, “Work.”