Sarah Jensen can’t single out one moment that decided her on a career as a large-animal vet, but she has early memories of tagging along with the veterinarian making calls to her home in the Interlake.
“I think it was a combination of factors,” she said. “One, growing up on a cattle farm and watching how the vet would interact with my dad and treat our cattle and then, more recently, learning about the One Health aspect (a cross-sector approach keying in on interconnection between animal, plant, human and environmental health) of how the way we treat our cattle and our animals and practise medicine can not only influence or have impact on the animal, but the environment and ourselves, so that’s quite attractive to me about the veterinary profession.”
Likewise, she is attracted to the herd-based approach inherent in large-animal medicine, as well as the interpersonal prospect of working with producers.
Why it matters: Sarah Jensen hopes the national mentorship program will help fill in her experience and contacts for a future career as a large-animal vet.
Raised on a cow-calf operation near Arborg, Man., Jensen grew up helping her father manage their Angus and Charolais herd, later taking a role as a youth representative of the Arborg Ag Society, helping to plan their local fair and rodeo and engaging other local youth with agriculture.
“From a young age, I’ve always been helping my dad on the farm, so that could be vaccinating, tagging, feeding; we would always have cattle drives as well, so we would be on horseback and driving the cows to the different pastures and it was always just such a fun environment and very much community oriented and I loved that aspect of it,” she said.
That interest eventually led her to Saskatoon, and the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, where she is in her first year, as well as one of 16 spots in the Cattlemen’s Youth Leaders (CYL) Mentorship Program this year, offered through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
The program matches finalists with industry leaders in their “area of interest” for a nine-month mentorship, plus a $2,000 travel budget.
For Jensen, that interest is veterinary medicine and, in particular, how it relates to the beef industry. In particular, she hopes her mentor will have veterinary experience on cow-calf operations or feedlots, where she hopes her own career path will lead.
“Here in Manitoba, because we don’t have many feedlots, I find it’s a bit hard to get experience working on them, so having someone who has those contacts, I think I’ll be well on my way to gaining more experience in those areas,” she said.
The CYL program is targeted for producers between 18 and 35.
Making the cut
Jensen was one of two Manitoba names on the CYL finalist list this year, along with Laura Plett of Stead, Man.
In a typical year, both would have made the trip to the Canadian Beef Industry Conference to vie for a CYL finalist spot. With an ongoing pandemic, however, the 24 semi-finalists this year instead signed in online. Roundtable discussions took place Aug. 10, with applicants judged by a panel of the program’s industry partners.
“It was very competitive and everyone’s extremely deserving,” Jensen said. “You could see how much knowledge was there at the roundtable interviews, so I just feel really fortunate to be selected.”
It was not the first time that Jensen has distinguished herself from the pack. The program from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine itself is notoriously competitive. The program caps off at about 80 students every year, with only 15 slots specifically allotted to students from Manitoba.
Jensen had initially studied biological science in university, not agriculture, although even then, she said, she kept ties with animal agriculture. Her early university years included research on improving sustainability in beef production, prior to her application to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I always tried to kind of keep myself involved, since that was my true passion,” she said.
COVID-19 will make for a different mentorship experience this year. The program has said it is looking at more virtual interactions and webinars, given the complications of meeting in person during the pandemic.
The program has also taken a “wait and see” approach to travel, usually a major part of the mentorship program, an aspect that Jensen, admittedly, has been looking forward to.
The Spring Forum, a three-day industry tour typically a “big hit” with finalists, is likewise in the air, CYL youth leadership co-ordinator Jessica Giles said.
Jensen’s “graduating class” will also be larger than normal. Finalists from 2019 have been given another year of mentorship, as the pandemic hijacked much of their experience earlier this year. A total 32 finalists will “graduate” alongside Jensen in 2021.
“There’s so many things I’m excited for,” Jensen said. “First to meet my mentor and to get to know them more and build that relationship, and I want to meet and get to know more of the other recipients. I’ve already made a couple of friends through this program… and then obviously I would like to travel to these farms and to the feedlots and get to see how they’re operating in person. The travel aspect is what I’m most excited for, it’ll just be a matter of if I’ll be able to do it.”
Giles says finalists will be matched with their mentors in November 2020.