By Margaret Preigh
Large animal medicine is not a path for the faint of heart, requiring long days outside, a healthy respect for the physical power of livestock, a delicate understanding of rural communities, and, oftentimes, a strong stomach.
Luckily, Dr. Benjamin Newcomer, a clinical associate professor with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) program, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if it means improving animal welfare.
“One thing I really like about veterinary medicine is that every day's different. There's always something new. It never gets humdrum,” Newcomer said. “My dad was an agriculture teacher, so I had always been exposed to cattle growing up and just loved being outside and loved the people who usually work with cattle.”
Raised for five years in Guatemala during his childhood, the outreach Newcomer’s father did in agricultural development exposed Newcomer to the needs of rural agricultural communities and the importance of service from an early age. This made Newcomer’s decision to pursue his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the University of Florida a natural choice.
After graduating in 2002, Newcomer worked at a large dairy practice in central California, practicing dairy production medicine and spent two years working through the Christian Veterinary Mission to support local farmers in Central Africa before returning stateside in July 2006, and subsequently joined the faculty of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008.
There, he completed his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and achieved board certification by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Large Animal) and the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (Epidemiology), and the American Board of Toxicology.
Following 12 years of work in farm animal internal medicine and epidemiology research at Auburn, Newcomer is opening another exciting chapter of his career as he joined the VERO team last week.
VERO, a dynamic partnership between the CVMBS and West Texas A&M University, brings veterinary students to the heart of one of the most productive animal agricultural regions in the world, opening opportunities for these students to collaborate in hands-on projects with industry partners and stakeholders both in the region and across the nation.
“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Newcomer to the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and VERO faculty. He brings to our program an exciting combination of dairy practice experience and teaching skills that will allow VERO to continue providing first-class, hands-on education to our students,” said Dr. Susan Eades, head of the CVMBS’ Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department. “His experience in working in the industry will also help the program continue in its mission of strengthening community relations and the veterinary field.”
Newcomer’s affinity for the hands-on nature of dairy production medicine meshes well with the goals of VERO, which serves the Texas Panhandle region by training highly qualified, highly motivated veterinary students in the livestock and rural animal medicine skills required to meet the region’s need.
“Dr. Newcomer’s skills reach almost two decades of experience in multiple states and countries,” said Dee Griffin, director of the VERO program. “He is perhaps the most academically prepared clinical dairy management professor in the U.S.
“The extremely large dairies we have in the Texas Panhandle and High Plains are extremely sophisticated,” Griffin said. “Dr. Newcomer is one of the few veterinarians in the U.S. we could have recruited who is capable of navigating the level of expertise required to work with dairies of this magnitude and be able to develop a dairy clinical veterinary and management program for our CVMBS students.”
“It’s well known that the history and tradition of Texas A&M is unrivaled. We’re known for producing quality veterinary graduates,” Newcomer said. “The VERO program, in particular, is geographically situated in a growing area with lots of cattle where students can get hands-on experience, and that made this position really attractive to me as an educator.”
Newcomer was also drawn by the opportunities of service through veterinary education.
“I think the biggest long-term impact VERO will have will be training veterinarians who have been exposed to those rural situations in the Panhandle,” he said. “VERO is starting to fill shortages in these areas by turning out veterinarians who are well-prepared and have a desire and an interest to go back into those situations.”
When working in rural settings such as Canyon, where VERO is based, Newcomer finds fulfillment in the relationships built between veterinarians and the local community.
“I certainly appreciate the community of food animal veterinarians,” he said. “The people I've known in food animal medicine and producers in the industry care about people. They value relationships, which is exciting to see. Tight-knit community is something I value, something I would hope to plug into at VERO and Texas A&M.”
The work of VERO and its supporting veterinarians, like Newcomer, is vitally important to supporting the stability of our nation’s food supply. The Texas Panhandle specifically is home to the third-largest milkshed in the nation, in addition to roughly 13 million head of cattle—more than any other state. The Texas Department of Agriculture values this industry at $12.3 billion.
“Ensuring we have a safe and sustainable food source is important and it's something that we sometimes take for granted. There’s a lack of exposure if you haven't grown up around agriculture and you just assume our food's going to be there,” Newcomer said.
“My hope would be that we, as a profession of veterinarians, can continue to provide some insight and assistance to that industry as far as maintaining the food supply, but also speaking to issues on animal welfare where we can provide a balanced opinion and one that's respected by both the industry as well as outsiders,” he said.
This commitment to hands-on education, service, and sustainability is a long-held value of Newcomer’s, demonstrated by his time in Central Africa working with Christian Veterinary Mission to build relationships with a group called the Fulani through veterinary medicine. That work with the Fulani also grew Newcomer’s commitment to diversity in veterinary medicine and enforced the value of different perspectives when facing new problems.
“If we want to really approach the challenges we're facing, we need to have different inputs in our solutions,” he said. “The only way we're going to get that is to have a diverse input of ideas and experiences to help approach those problems in a way that will be sustainable and productive.”
Domestically, Newcomer has also been passionate about problem solving, with a robust background in researching preventative measures and treatments for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), a condition causing respiratory and reproductive issues in addition to a number of secondary infections that is found in the majority of the world and has major economic impacts on the cattle industry.
“My research has primarily been involved with infectious diseases; in my work with BVD, I've been pretty heavily involved with looking at new antivirals for cattle,” he said. “That's a developing field, but particularly in the Panhandle with the feed lot industry being as prevalent as it is, there's certainly some potential there to really maximize animal welfare, animal health, and production if we can use some targeted antivirals to control BVD or some of those other issues prevalent in these spaces.”
Newcomer is just as eager to get started with VERO as VERO is to have him. The coming year offers many opportunities for enrichment in the VERO program, the region, and the Aggie community as a whole.
“Over the past 10 years, the Texas Panhandle has become one of the major dairy area; there are lots of producers and veterinarians who would love to have students come by and get involved,” he said. “VERO's nicely situated where we can make those relationships and get those students out for those experiences.
“I am very excited for the new opportunities at VERO, for getting my feet on the ground, and for getting to know my colleagues there a little better,” he said. “I’m also excited about starting to build relationships with the dairymen, working with the Texas A&M veterinary students on clinical rotations, and learning Aggie culture and Panhandle culture and investing in the community there.”