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Chinook Veterinarian Employs a Veterinary Student for the Summer


July 1, 2020

inic (CVC) since 1986, and for the past nine years, Melanie Skoyen has been his administrative assistant. While some things remain fairly constant; others change.

On June 18, for the first time that Maureen Schmitt could remember, there were two vet students in the CVC building at 327 Missouri Street: Tylynn Rettig and Tianna Cronk. With experience that traces back to the late seventies when she was helping 4-H club members with their horse projects and currently as she facilitates embryo transfers, Schmitt is the equine specialist at CVC.

Cronk, who graduated this year from MSU-Bozeman with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science, shadowed Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Eaton in her freshman year at MSU. So, when the opportunity to work at a mixed practice clinic like CVC came available, she applied.

That the two vet students were both in the clinic on June 18 was just a coincidence, since Rettig's grandfather had a calf in for a hernia repair and Cronk was assisting Dr. Lane Schmitt in the procedure. However, the two young women will be classmates at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman this fall. Prior to their chance meeting, the two didn't know one another.

"I could have waitressed during this summer between my graduation from Bozeman and before entering WSU as a second year vet student, but I wanted to gain more practical experience in my field of study," Cronk said.

Cronk is enrolled in WSU's regional program in veterinary medical education which serves the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Utah. This innovative program, now known as the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah (WIMU) Regional Program, has served Montana students since 2014.

The Montana Legislature and Governor Steve Bullock approved MSU's participation in the WIMU program during the 2013 state legislature to strengthen the state's veterinarian workforce, especially in the area of large-animal vets in underserved rural areas. In fact, Dr. Lane Schmitt was a member of the program's first graduating class in 2018.

Because of the WIMU program, Cronk spent her first year of vet school with a cohort of ten other students in Bozeman, where MSU faculty members-the majority of whom are experienced veterinarians-teach the first-year curriculum with courses in Anatomy, Histology, Physiology, Neuroscience, Immunology, General Pathology, Professionalism and Ethics, Introduction to Clinics, and Introduction to Surgery.

Cronk's classroom and clinical study will continue in years two and three on WSU's Pullman campus.

Since she has been working her summer job at CVC, Cronk, who wanted the large animal experience, has assisted in several procedures.

For example, she helped to remove a pre-molar on a four-year-old horse, using equine dental equipment that CVC updated this past January. "It took an hour and a half just to wiggle that one tooth out," Cronk exclaimed.

The vet student has gained added experience with vaginal prolapse repairs, hernia repairs, and lots of bull fertility testing.

A skilled cattle producer will likely say that having a bull with good genetics is just as important as ensuring that he can actually perform his job when covering a cow herd or a group of heifers.

Bulls sustain injuries or can become ill; they age, and their semen production can degenerate over time. Getting an annual breeding soundness exam performed not only confirms a bull's physical health but removes the risk of turning out a bull that might be infertile or subpar.

"I find all of this new knowledge fascinating," Cronk said. "Examining the semen swirls under a microscope, we look for sperm motility and morphology."

In a semen motility evaluation, the vet examines the sample for self- propelled, forward movement of the sperm. Semen must be a minimum of 30% motile-a feature that is critical at the time of fertilization since it enables the sperm to penetrate the surface of an egg.

In a semen morphology evaluation, the vet studies the physical structure of the individual sperm cells. The total ejaculate, which is also measured for volume, must possess a minimum of 70% morphologically normal spermatozoa. In highly fertile bulls, the sperm heads are consistent in size and free of defective shapes. Some examples of primary abnormalities are detached heads, excessively large or small heads, and misshapen heads. Likewise, the sperm's mid-piece and tail must be defect-free.

Although it is always the case that some sperm from an ejaculate are morphologically abnormal, when that fraction becomes excessive, fertility may decrease.

Typically, a breeding soundness exam is performed 30 to 60 days prior to the breeding season on every bull, every year. This time frame not only gives a bull that might have a recoverable injury some time to heal but provides a window to conduct another breeding soundness exam. It also allows a producer to purchase any replacement bulls should a bull need to be culled.

In addition to working with bull fertility during her time at CVC, Cronk has also experienced a series of firsts. Topping that list is observing a mare give birth to her foal. She has also seen joint infection, severe lacerations, equine lameness, and embryo transfer in mare breeding.

All in a day's work, Cronk is learning about estrus synchronization and artificial insemination, pregnancy ultrasounding in dairy cattle, and necropsies.

While she is employed in Chinook, Cronk, who is the daughter of Marla (Anderson) Cronk and Barry Cronk, is staying with her maternal grandmother, Rose Hewittt. Having grown up in Billings, Cronk is familiarizing herself with the area where her mother and father were raised. Cronk's mother is a 1987 graduate of Chinook High School, and her father is a 1987 graduate of Harlem High School.

About her position with Chinook Veterinary Clinic, the younger Cronk stated: "I'm putting together elements of my education and applying it to the world of work."

Her mother added, "Tianna is loving every second of her time in Chinook and learning so much!"


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