Idaho veterinary teaching center closing

Caine Center also produced research, performed diagnostic services
Published on March 16, 2016
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A long-standing Idaho-based food animal referral hospital and teaching center for veterinary students is slated for closure by the end of the year.

The University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences announced Jan. 27 that it will shutter the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center, about 30 miles west of Boise. In doing so, it will “adopt a new approach for educating veterinary students that relies on veterinary faculty placed throughout the state to work more directly with livestock producers and university facilities,” according to a university press release.     

 “We believe this change is necessary to reflect changes in the regional veterinary education program and to better prepare students to work with Idaho’s livestock producers,” said John Foltz, PhD, the college’s dean, in a university press release. “In addition, this change aligns with the university’s ongoing process of refining and redirecting resources in line with guidance from our State Board of Education as we meet changing needs.”  

But not everyone agrees the closure is for the best. A former faculty member at the center says local livestock producers and veterinarians will be the ones to suffer, as they depended on it for laboratory work and necropsies and will have to find alternatives for those services now.

Changing rotations

Located near Caldwell, Idaho, the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center opened in 1977. It is an off-campus unit of the Animal and Veterinary Science Department that served as the University of Idaho’s commitment to the Washington-Oregon-Idaho Regional Veterinary Education Program; Oregon withdrew from the joint program in 2005. In 2012, Washington State and Utah State University announced a new partnership, and the program is now called the Washington-Idaho-Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine.

The center’s primary purpose is to provide fourth-year veterinary students with clinical training in food animal medicine and surgery in the heavily concentrated livestock area of southern Idaho. About 65 Washington State University veterinary students, along with preveterinary students at UI, receive experience in individual inpatient and outpatient care as well as herd and flock investigations—primarily for beef and dairy cattle, sheep, and goats. The two-week training blocks provide extensive hands-on contact, particularly in calving and lambing. More than 2,000 students have rotated through the center, sometimes more than once.  

WSU veterinary students are currently doing rotations there; the next group of students begins in May. Further rotations have already been scheduled, but with the center closing at the end of this year, WSU must develop an alternative plan, said Dr. Doug Jasmer, associate dean of students at Washington State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Details were still being worked out as of press time in March, but students will likely participate in rotations at locations in Idaho that still provide production medicine opportunities for them. 

Dr. Foltz told JAVMA, “The future of the Caine center and the changing nature of veterinary education has been discussed with stakeholders and internal and external audiences for several years. Some of the discussion was within the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah regional veterinary education program, reflecting concerns that students were not working directly with animals at the Caine center because the number of animals brought there for treatment or diagnosis had greatly diminished through the years.”   

​The Caine Veterinary Teaching Center near Caldwell, Idaho, provides fourth-year veterinary students with two-week clinical instruction blocks in livestock production and population medicine. The Department of Animal and Veterinary Science in the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, which oversees the center, announced it will close its doors by the end of 2016. (Courtesy of University of Idaho)

Dr. Jasmer said WSU learned of the center’s closing when UI made the announcement, but added that the universities had previously discussed the situation, specifically, the center’s dwindling faculty numbers. Originally, the center had six, but for the past three or four years, it was down to only two or three faculty members. Currently only one is at the center—Dr. James England, a professor of animal and veterinary science who teaches beef cattle production medicine and gives lectures to ranchers statewide on vaccination programs, calving, and ranch management.  

“When we talk about faculty, typically they have more than one role—teaching, research, and service. So, if you lose faculty, the remaining wind up having to focus more on teaching, so the person down there now (Dr. England) is focused almost entirely on teaching. That’s the situation we find ourselves in, and adjustments have been made that will address the quality issue for students the remainder of this year,” Dr. Jasmer said.

He added, “They’ve been good partners. Whenever you have change like this, it’s good to have a close working relationship. That’s been the case. We’re looking forward to opportunities provided by this change and look forward to working with UI on accomplishing those.”

Future plans

The university says the new arrangement will move faculty positions formerly based at the Caine center to the following:

  • One at the Caldwell Research and Extension Center, with a focus on general food animal care.
  • One at the Nancy M. Cummings Research, Extension, and Education Center near Salmon, with a focus on beef cow-calf operations.
  • One at UI’s Moscow campus, with a focus on small ruminants and sheep.
  • Two in the Magic Valley area, with a focus on dairy and beef cattle. 

Regarding the Magic Valley location, Dr. Foltz added, “Locations will be determined after consultations with stakeholders and analysis of space in University of Idaho facilities in the area. The immediate plan is to co-locate the new faculty with University of Idaho existing research and extension faculty on the College of Southern Idaho campus” in Twin Falls.

Nine nonfaculty positions will be cut at the Caine center. The employees in those positions will be given preference in applying for similar positions within the university as job openings become available.

But nothing is set in stone. Dr. Foltz said that the timeline for realizing this plan is flexible, dependent on gaining the financial resources to make it happen. He added that job searches are underway with the hope of having veterinary faculty hired and in position by summer so they can serve students this fall semester.

Center’s impact on the state

Dr. Marie Bulgin, who retired from the center a few years ago after working there almost 35 years, says closing it will be a great loss to the state and its livestock industry.

The Caine Veterinary Teaching Center includes a full-service diagnostic laboratory and is the only necropsy facility in the state equipped to handle and dispose of large animals, a feature that Zoo Boise and Idaho Fish and Game commonly use. She says hunters will have to wait weeks instead of days to find out if the animal they killed was positive for any diseases.

One alternative is Washington State University’s Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which will continue to analyze samples. The University of Idaho’s analytical services laboratory in Moscow also provides diagnostic services. Utah State University has also enhanced its diagnostic capabilities. There is also a trend toward using commercial diagnostic services, Dr. Foltz said.

Research had also been a major component of the center. Faculty members were the first to recognize that milk wasn’t the cause of scours in young calves, lambs, and kids, and that taking the milk away guaranteed the animals would die. They also discovered the following:

  • That one could diagnose enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli on a gram stain before diagnostic kits were available to identify the bacteria.
  • That ovine progressive pneumonia virus was the cause of “hard bag” in ewes.
  • That the cause of epididymitis in ram lambs was not Brucella ovis but Actinobacillis or Histophilus somnus, which originally had been named H ovis

In addition, from the early 1990s until 2014, the Caine center was home to the only scrapie research sheep flock in the United States. Plus, it was home to the Pasteurella Molecular Biology Research Laboratory, which had an important role in characterizing pneumonia outbreaks in free-ranging bighorn sheep and other wildlife species. The scrapie flock was disposed of in 2014, and the Pasteurella laboratory was closed at the end of 2015 because of a lack of funding.

The university says the decision to close the Caine center also reflects “a refocusing of resources over the past decade away from animal research and diagnostic services in Caldwell.” 

“The decline in demand for diagnostic services and diminished research activity at the center, reflecting fewer faculty researchers, meant less revenue was available to offset costs. The biggest consideration in revising the university’s approach, however, was considering the needs of veterinary students—the original reason for establishing the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center 40 years ago,” Dr. Foltz said.

But Dr. Bulgin argues the recent administration doesn’t understand the need for a veterinary presence in the area, and in fact, contributed to the decline in cases.

“During the recession, the university was hit pretty hard, so they didn’t fill vacant positions. And everyone that could retire, they retired, including myself,” she said, leaving the center with two faculty for the past three to four years. “They had their hands full with students and weren’t in a position where they could do much with clients because they didn’t have time, so the people started going elsewhere.”

The Treasure Valley, where the Caine center is located, is home to 94 dairies and almost 120,000 cows, the third largest dairy-producing region in the state as of 2015, trailing the Magic Valley and eastern Idaho, according to figures from the UI College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Despite the higher numbers of animals in other areas, Dr. Bulgin doubts that veterinary students will get clinical training like they did at the Caine center.

“We had, over the years, built up arrangements with certain producers and private practitioners, to where we had quite a large group of producers that we could take students to,” Dr. Bulgin said. “Salmon is not a hugely populated area. What are they going to do with the students? I’m sure they can teach some management practices, but as far as clinical medicine goes, they wouldn’t get it.”

She said, “Hiring a seasoned practitioner with practical research experience will be tough in the remote areas such as Salmon for the salary they are apt to offer. But the sad truth is that they just don’t know what is needed to teach veterinary students. None of the people involved in this decision have ever come to the Caine center to shadow any of the faculty there.”

At the Caine center, “You had a group of people who were compatible and specialized in different areas. We used to come together and discuss big problems that had arisen and take students out there and discuss what they saw, what they thought, took samples, and so forth. I think the energy that came out of the Caine center, when it was fully staffed, was just amazing. I feel fortunate to have been a part of that.”

“It was a jewel in the university’s crown, and they just tossed it away,” Dr. Bulgin said.  

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