Vet Med Students 2010 Study Abroad in Germany

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Vet Med Students 2010 Study Abroad in Germany

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  • Meeting Dr. Helmut Surborg, Large Animal Vet, in his Wahrenolz Practice (June 11, 2010)

    This morning we had our breakfast in Hannover (the usual), then loaded up the vans and hit the road. Tschss Hannover!  We started heading west towards Dr. Helmut Surborgs practice in Wahrenholz.  Dr. Surborg is a large animal practitioner and also a Representative at the Lower Saxony Veterinary Association. We arrived at his home, which also houses the small animal practice that his wife runs.

    Click to enterDr. Surborg explained to us how his cattle practice was old fashioned, aka, 24/7/365 and that this is very important in cattle work to be available.  His area covers about a 10 km radius but that the neighbor colleagues will help to cover when someone is on holiday.  Some history about his practice showed that many of these farms were small farms and run as a second job when the husbands all went to work at the nearby Volkswagen plant.  During that time, he told us that it was hard work, but rewarding rural OB work.  Now, farmers mostly do their own OB work, so when he gets called, it’s usually catastrophic. 

    The regulations with drug use in cattle are a big deal in Dr. Surborg’s practice.  He can buy from the producers and treat/dispense the medication, but there is a lot of paperwork involved.  Each animal must have a written form with the drugs prescribed, so Helmut made his own.  These are specified sheets by diagnosis and on it are listed (then circled appropriately) the medications dispensed, the instructions, and the withdrawal times.  There is one Helmut keep and one the farmer keeps.  These records are necessary for the farmer to get his subsidies.  Also, the only lab work performed in house maybe a gram stain for mastitis.  All other lab work is sent out by courier to the lab with results via e-mail by the next morning.  Helmut has mostly good clients where they do the farm work and let him do the vet work.  But there are some farmers who will buy their own medications (including antibiotics) from illegal operations where vets will meet them on the Autobahn and sell medications.  This is illegal for multiple reasons but the main one is a valid client relationship.  Also, medications can only be prescribed legally for 7 days, after that, the veterinarian must re-visit the animal.

    Dr. Surborg also has a second job working for the State and doing meat inspection and helping with outbreaks and eradication efforts when needed.

    Click to enlargeThen we headed over to the farm of Helmut Evers in Wahrenholz.  (Apparently Helmut is a common name!)  A little history about the town: It is over 1,000 years old and is very agricultural with about 3,800 people.  This farm was founded 500 years ago and has been passed down from father to son.  Mr. Evers took the farm from his father in 1985 and at that time there were about 30 cows, 70 pigs and other species.  Now it is a dairy farm with 80 milking cows and about 65 young or dry females.  He has 800 hectares of land with other farmers that grow, amongst other things, potatoes for chips.

    Click to enlargeThere were separate areas for different stages.  The calving pen was currently occupied by a cow that was 2 days overdue. (Dr. Surborg might get a call in the middle of the night!).  The calves get to have their first meal from their mother (not a common practice in the States, where calves are bottle fed their first meal of colostrum and maintained on milk replacer, or powdered milk.  Once the colostrum is collected from the cow for the first 24 hours of lactation, the cow heads to the milking parlor), then are moved a few feet away to small calf boxes for isolation for 5 days and they continue to receive milk at that point.  After they, they are moved to another area close by which Helmut Evers called “Kindergarten” and they stay there until 10 weeks of age and receive milk made from powder.  At that point, they move to “Pre-School” where they no longer receive milk and stay there until they are about 6 months of age.  This area is near to another calving pen.  The third main area consists of 3 smaller areas based on age.  Once the cows are 6 months old, they move to “1st school” for 3 months.  Then they move to “2nd” school” which is very similar to “1st School”.  “3rd School” is also in the same area and this is the age in which they are inseminated.  Mr. Evers does his own AI with semen and training from MasterRind.  This area has rubber planks and straw bedded boxes.  The cows here are fed grass and silage they the farmers grow themselves as it is uncommon to buy hay in Germany.  The main area of the barn is where the milk cows live.  It is also separated into 3 areas: one for dry cows, one for cows who have calved in the last month, and a third for all the rest.

    Click to enter The cows here get grass, corn, straw, and soy, and even some commercial concentrate depending on production.  Some of the cows can go outside if, for instance, they have foot problems.  When it is time for milking, which is done at 6am and 5pm, the cows walk through a shower area to wash the teats, then into a typical herringbone style milking parlor with 12 stations.  It takes Mr. Evers (and often his wife too) about 1 hour and 15 minutes to milk the approximately 65 cows. While American dairy producers have gone the way of parallel milking parlors (with the bum of the cow facing the milker and the milk claw, or vacuum milking system, coming between the hind legs to attach to teats), Germans feels this is not a very good way to milk cows.  According to one source, only a naughty calf will steal milk from a cow not his mother by sneaking a meal from behind her.  A good calf will approach his mother from the side, and nurse properly at her flank.  Thus, animal welfare is manifested through many “traditional” and standard practices in Germany, such as the herringbone stalls.

    Once the milk is collected, it is cooled to 5ºC and it picked up every 2 days and brought to a local dairy.  Each day a sample is collected but testing is not a daily requirement.  Fat, protein and somatic cell content is done randomly by the local dairy 4 times per month, i.e. the farmer does not know when the testing will be done, while bacterial colony identification is only done twice a month.  Antibiotic testing is performed as needed. 

    At this farm, they do sell some raw milk to about 10 local families.  They also sell 10% of their milk to a local bakery and it is put into cakes.  Each dairy can only sell a government stated quota, but farmers can exchange on a national level and through the milk companies. 

    This farm was, I think, especially interesting.  First of all the barn itself was built out of wood from the Evers’ property.  They also have solar paneling on top of one of the buildings.  And a group of the local farmers and a near by town organized and constructed a biogas facility.  So all of the manure goes about 5 km away from the farm and this helps to make money for the farm.  Unfortunately it cost Mr. Evers about Î0.28 for each liter produced while he only gets paid Î0.27/liter.  But this is still better than last year when it cost the same but he was only paid Î0.20/liter.  The government did provide some subsidies, but it was not enough.

    So then, we had a little exercise with a local state veterinarian, Dr. Annika Mitzscherling, as to the procedures to take if this farm was suspected of Foot and Mouth Disease.  First of all, the local vet would need to have been called by the farmer for some sort of problem, usually no milk production.  Then the local vet would call the state vet with his suspicions.  At the state level, there are guidelines in place for certain crises.  The first thing to happen is that the farm would be quarantined and no one would be allowed to leave the farm.  Meanwhile, special vets come and take samples and send them off to the lab to confirm a diagnosis.  Also, the farm is located in the national HIT system and the number of animals is identified, as well as those who might have recently left the farm.  There is a cow-side test for FMD and if this is positive, then the cows would be immediately culled.  If this test is negative, this does not mean the cows are negative and a sample is sent to The Friedrich Loeffler Institute on the Insel Riems.  It is up to the Ministry of Agriculture to determine if the animals should be culled before a sample is identified as positive.  If the sample is positive, then all animals at this farm and those within 1 km radius must also be culled.  The culling is done usually by electric stunning, and then the cows are transported to an incinerator.  After the aftermath of the FMD outbreak in the UK and the psychological stress of fires of the farms, local incineration on the farm is no longer done.  All farms within 3 km of the original farm must be tested for FMD.  There are other regulations for farms within 10 km as well.  Because FMD has a 12-day inoculation period, there needs to be a lot of trace back.  Some problems include the movement of both animals and people on and off farms, the farmers self-treating and not knowing the disease they are dealing with, and vets often examining the animal and then going to other farms.

    So overall, this is a bad situation for the cows, the farmer, and the town, as well as the country and maybe the whole EU.  So the goal with a lot of diseases is to prevent them from entering.  FMD and Glanders in horses are two diseases that are endemic in Eastern Europe and with the free commerce throughout the EU, if these diseases were to cross, it would be a very difficult and costly outbreak to control.

    Dr. Mitzscherling also showed us the new ear tags for cows in German.  These still correspond with the national ID system, but also extracts a piece of tissue for BVD testing on all calves.  This sample is then sent to the lab, and if it is positive, the animal is culled.  Germany is trying to become free of BVD and now have an incidence of only 3-4%.

    So we finally left the farm and headed over to see the biogas plant.  Here they take silage and manure and mix it, then put it in a silo.  It then ferments and makes gas and heat.  This gas and heat is sold to an electric company who uses it to provide electricity and warmth to the next village, including the city hall building.

    Click to enterWe then headed to a nearby wind park.  In this particular park, there were 10 windmills with an average production of 53,000 KWH/year.  This translates to providing electricity to 13,250 4-person households per year.  This allows us to save 58.3 kilotons of brown coal, 15.9 kilotons of black coal, 10.6 kilotons of oil, and 11.7 million meters cubed of gas.  Farmers who put a windmill on their farm get reimbursed about Î10,000 per year, but it does affect the growth as it causes a shadow.

    So after a long and exciting morning, we headed back to Dr. Surborg’s home for lunch.   It was a delicious meal of coleslaw, a corn, tomato, cucumber salad, bread, ham, potatoes and wine.  The wine was made by Ingrid Surborg’s (Helmut’s wife, a mixed animal practitioner) family in Rheinland-Pfalz.  We also had red current custard (with red currents from their garden) for dessert, and lots of good conversation.

     Then we drove to Wolfburg to where the Volkswagen plant is and the Autostadt, or Auto City.  At the Autostadt, we saw a display on sustainability.  Here they identified the 3 dimensions of sustainability as the economy, the environment, and society.  There were examples of climate change, how much was destroyed during a forest fire, the effect of glacial melting, and some lakes drying out.  They also had an interactive map showing certain cities and what they would look like if sea levels rise.  You could even evaluate your ecological footprint by answering 12 questions about your lifestyle and it showed, if every person was like you, how many Earths would be needed to house the people.Click to enlarge

    Then we went on a tour of the Zeithaus, which housed a lot of cars!  We saw a replica of the first car, which was a mix of a coach and a bike.  In the beginning, you had to buy gas from the pharmacy, the first gas stations were in the US in 1907.  We saw the first German car, built in 1899 with 4 wheels and candles for headlights.  We continued on to the Model T, the Rolls Royce (that was ordered with a driver/mechanic) and the first people’s car, the Hanomag.  From the top of the Zeithaus, you could see Wolf’s Castle, built in the 1300s.  The Volkswagen, which means “People’s Car” had it first Beetle prototype in 1936.  The oldest exiting Beetle is from 1938.  They even had the 1,000,000th Beetle made which had gold paint and fake diamonds on it.

    We could see the VW factory and at 6.5 square kilometers, it is the biggest in the world.  There are 50,000 employees with 20,000 on the assembly line.  At this plant they make the Golf, Golf Plus, Tiguan and the Touran.  They produce 3,000 cars per day.  There are even 40 miles of roads and 40 miles of rail within the factory compound and people have bikes just to get across the facility.  Lastly, we saw Dr. Hoenig’s next car: a silver Bentley Bugatii with 1,001 horse power!

    Click to enlargeThe we hopped on the train to Berlin!  It took a little over an hour and most rested or read on the way.  We checked in to our hotel Novotel Berlin Mitte and got ready for dinner.  We found this great German restaurant (Mutter Hoppe) with a little band playing German music.  Dr Hoenig sang along and she and Dr. Ferguson even danced a number.  We were also introduced to the wonderful grün and rot Berliner Kindl Weisse Bier.  It looked like Christmas.

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