From the Editor

Life's lessons

My father-in-law had a mixed farm in Quebec. After driving the 9 hours from Ontario, we would head to the barn and visit with him while we helped do the chores. Once when he had a gilt that was savaging her piglets, he patiently stood next to her with his crook, pulling the piglets away from her head until she finished farrowing. He was calm and gentle and in no rush for her to finish. We stood watching her while she calmed down and began mothering her piglets. Then we went on with the rest of the chores.

Veterinarians are life-long learners. It is rare that I visit a farm without learning something new. Producers are with pigs on a daily basis, they are observant, and they are creative. They understand what works in their operation and what doesn't. They each have something to teach us. Recently, I was in a gestating-sow barn that had large barrels above the sow crates. These were filled with water three times a day, and then when it was time to water the sows, the barrels were emptied into the trough. This reduced the anxiety of sows waiting to get water. It also enabled the producer to water the sows without interfering with the water pressure in other parts of the barn. He could simultaneously water sows and use the high pressure washer in the farrowing rooms. At the same facility, a foot-operated contraption was built to hold and squeeze the instrument used to dock tails and clip teeth. This enabled a farrowing barn manager with carpal tunnel syndrome to keep working. She held the pig up to the instrument, positioned the pig's head appropriately and then depressed the plunger with her foot. As veterinarians, we have the privilege of visiting a variety of different farms and interacting with producers with different goals and a wide variety of talents. How often have you learned something from one producer, only to share that information with another?

As I write this, I am returning from the second annual Swine Educator's Conference organized by Dr Sandy Amass at Purdue. We spent 2 days talking about the struggles and successes at our respective universities. We learned some new techniques to invigorate our teaching. There were some very exciting new ideas for mentoring students who are determined to work in the swine industry as veterinarians. These students are being identified and mentored as early as second year university. Speaker after speaker talked about mentoring, giving students real-life experiences, and providing a role model for these students. Just as we learned from each other at this educators' meeting, so, too, do we learn from other practitioners when we attend meetings together. This week a swine veterinarian from Denmark told me that it is the failures that teach us the most. He spoke of the risk of sharing failures, but also the valuable lessons that failures hold. As we share stories with colleagues and veterinary students, we need to be brave enough to share our failures.

Last, but certainly not least, we learn from pigs. Sometimes the room thermometer says that the pigs are at a comfortable temperature, but they are huddled in a corner, piled on top of one another. In another farm, the producer believes there is sufficient access to water, but the pigs are ear biting or tail biting or guarding the water source. It is not only the problems that we see and learn about when we take the time to watch the pigs. When we watch pigs being moved, we learn what causes them to be fearful and what seems safe or even interesting to them. We can learn from one encounter with pigs to make the next encounter better.

Veterinarians are life-long learners. We in the swine industry have a chance to learn from producers, veterinarians, students, and pigs. Take the opportunity to work with a veterinary student or a prospective veterinary student and show them how much you learn every day. Show them your excitement for learning. Thank a producer who has taught you something. We are fortunate to be in such a rich learning environment while we work.

Cate Dewey