Katelyn Williams is a smart 12-year old, in seventh grade, who has worked with animals since she was 7. At her young age, she has already operated on a cow with a veterinarian, and says she wants to be a veterinarian because she likes saving animals’ lives.
Katelyn and her mom live next door to the family farm owned by Katelyn’s grandfather (“Pop”). He owns and works with draft, pulling horses as a hobby. It was there that Katelyn grew to love the farm animals for which she cares.
Helping her Pop on the farm, Katelyn grains and hays the horses and cows, preparing the perfect mixture of grain and/or supplements for each animal. She also grooms and walks them. Then comes the most fun—riding around the track on a sled pulled by the horse. The sled is a heavy-weighted, steel seat with a cement block on it. This exercise conditions the horses to pull the required weight at fairs where they are entered into pulling competitions. At the fairs, the horses are required to pull a shorter distance than they are on the home track, but with more weight; so at home, Katelyn and her Pop use less weight to compensate for the added distance.
Katelyn and her Pop own four large horses and two old pulling ponies. “We used to pull ponies, but we decided to move on to horses. We still have two of the ponies because we still love them.” Then there’s Duke: Katelyn’s favorite, beautiful, black horse. “I can take him around the track but someone has to go with me to make sure everything goes alright.”
Not only does Katelyn take care of horses, but she also cares for and shows cows in the summer through the 4-H Club. It all started with her aunt’s hobby of showing cows, and when Katelyn was old enough, she became involved too. Katelyn explains the criteria of how the cows are judged at shows: “There’s Showmanship, which means it doesn’t matter what your cow looks like; it’s how your animal behaves, how you behave with it, and how you present yourself with your animal; and there’s Breed Class where the judges look at how your cow is bred, what its parents are, and its structure. You want your cow to look nice, and you should present it well to the judge.”
Although most of the cows that Katelyn has worked with in the past were leased from farms, she now owns a few of her own. “I have Iggy, a Holstein who’s almost 2 years old. She’s hopefully going to have a baby soon. My cow, Annabelle, had a baby in March, and her name is Anastasia. I hope to show both Iggy and Anastasia this summer.”
Katelyn starts working with a new calf not long after it is born. “I work with it very day, I become its friend, and we work on how we will behave at the fair.” It can be difficult raising a calf, especially if it becomes ill. “Anastasia got sick when she was only 2 weeks old. If a calf does not get enough colostrum, which is the first milk from its mother, it’s more prone to get sick in the first 2 weeks. Anastasia didn’t get enough because she was so small, so 2 weeks later she was very sick—so sick she couldn’t stand up. We had to give her a bottle of IV. For 4 days she was on medicine, shots, electrolytes, and anything to keep her moving. It was very cold outside during the winter, so we had to keep her in a horse stall with blankets. Now she’s all better.”
After Katelyn shows the calf or cow, she likes to keep it as a pet. “I usually get them when they’re little, and after they have their first baby, they go back to their farm to get milked. Annabelle (Anastasia’s mom) was my 10th birthday present, and I’ve shown her for the past 2 years. Annabelle is a Jersey, milk cow. Right now, she’s at a farm where they are starting up a Jersey herd, so they bought her. It’s a very nice farm, and I get to go visit her.”
Luckily, Katelyn’s aunt is the manager at the UConn (University of Connecticut) Dairy Farm, and has taken Katelyn with her many times to help with the cows. It was at UConn that Katelyn met Dr. Eugene White, a veterinarian from Tufts University who cares for the UConn Dairy Farm cows. Dr. White soon discovered Katelyn had the potential of making a good vet after she noticed one of the cows had a broken leg and needed help. He asked Katelyn if she would be interested in helping him with his veterinary visits on occasion, and Katelyn happily agreed. Since then, Katelyn has assisted Dr. White with two surgeries.
She describes her experiences during one of the surgeries: “I filled syringes and calmed the cow. I gave the shot of anesthetic so it would feel no pain. I took the syringe and put a measured amount of medicine at different places about a half-inch apart. An incision was made; the vet reached in and moved the abomasums (the cow’s stomach) back to where it was supposed to be. While Dr. White did that, and the cow was standing up, I put gloves on, put my hand in, and felt the abomasum and the liver. It felt like Play-Doh. When the surgery was over, the incision was stitched back up.”
Katelyn is interested in practicing large-animal veterinary medicine. “I’d like to work with cows and horses and dogs and maybe cats…not really small animals. I’m not sure if I’d want to take care of birds and gerbils.” She wants to go to UConn for her pre-vet schooling because she likes UConn and the program there. She hopes to attend Tufts University for her actual veterinary schooling.
If other kids want to get experience like she has with animals, Katelyn says, “They should probably join a 4-H club where they can work with animals, talk to other kids who enjoy the same things they do, and exchange experiences that they’ve had. If they have the chance to own animals, they will learn about them by taking care of them every day. By owning and taking care of them, they can feel some of the same feelings as a veterinarian who saves animals’ lives has, because they are giving animals a home and taking good care of them.”