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Why this veterinarian became an ag educator

Photos by Haley Baker Christy Herr stands in front of Kurtz Veterinary Clinic sign
IT STARTED HERE: Twenty-seven years after starting her first job as a veterinarian, Christy Herr still finds herself back at the clinic every now and then. But today her full-time career is teaching agriculture to high school students.
See what led Christy Herr to make a drastic shift midcareer.

Growing up, Christy Herr had no doubt that she wanted to be a veterinarian, and that’s just what she became — for a good while, and then she made a career change.

As Herr was approaching graduation from Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it was time for her and her husband, Will, to determine where they wanted to establish roots. She sent out resumes, and two interviews later, she found a home at Kurtz Veterinary Clinic in Hagerstown, Ind.

Herr was the first hire for Drs. Greg and Robyn Kurtz, who were both veterinarians. After going on large-animal calls with Greg for a couple of weeks to meet clients, Herr eventually transitioned to taking calls on her own.

After 27 years at Kurtz Veterinary Clinic, Herr developed a multitude of relationships with livestock producers and pet owners in the community.

“The best part of being a veterinarian was seeing people and clients all the time,” she says.

Changing careers

But being a large-animal veterinarian had its fair share of wear and tear. “I’m a person who doesn’t like to lose very much, so when I had hard calvings, it was whatever it took to get it out,” Herr says. “Over time, that’s really torn my shoulders up.” Eventually, Herr knew it was time to find something else to do, as she wasn’t ready to retire.

After watching her sons go through the Hagerstown FFA program, Herr knew there was ample opportunity for the program to grow. An opening for the agricultural teacher and FFA advisor later opened, and she knew it was meant to be.

In the fall of 2019, Herr got a call asking if she would substitute-teach a few days a week at Hagerstown Junior-Senior High School. The agricultural teacher had left, and Herr’s credentials allowed students to still earn dual credits.

She took a leave of absence from the vet clinic and taught from Thanksgiving to Christmas. During that time, she realized she really liked what she was doing and further looked into teaching. Thanks to her advanced degree, the transition was relatively easy, with only two tests to take: the Pedagogy and Indiana CORE: Career and Technical Education Agriculture.

Although the Indiana CORE was “a bit of a beast,” after passing it, Herr found herself thankful she lived in a house of boys who were constantly talking about trucks, woodworking, farming and more.

Christy Herr working at her desk

Christy Herr spends many hours at this desk before and after school to stay on top of lesson plans, FFA events and more.

While veterinary practice and teaching are two very different professions, Herr has found some similarities.

“Have you ever tried to teach a farmer something?” is her response when asked if she sees any similarities between the professions. When Herr interviewed for the teaching position, she told them she’s spent her life trying to teach farmers something, whether it’s how to treat a cow for milk fever or how to recognize black leg.

“Really, it’s all about client education, because nobody wants to see me,” she says. “Farmers are more hands-on and don’t want to sit and listen to a lecture. They learn by doing and setting an example, and that’s what should be done in here [the classroom], as well.”

However, as with beginning any new career, there have been challenges. One challenge is simply being new at teaching. Being a veteran at the vet clinic, Herr’s days didn’t take much preparation, and she could walk out the door for work ready to go. Today, Herr says walking out the door ready to go requires work the night before, work in the morning, and then work during the day to keep her head above water.

“There’s something about being awkward, uncertain and not having any self-confidence after coming from a career where you had some confidence,” she says. “It really boiled down to, I had to suck it up.”

a young chicken climbs on a Hagerstown, Ind., ag student

As one can imagine, chickens provide a unique source of entertainment during class for ag students in Hagerstown, Ind. They are part of Christy Herr’s hands-on approach.

After talking with some students, it’s clear that the many hours are paying off. Two students in Herr’s animal science class, Hattie Hobbs and Caleb Claywell, both enjoy that Herr uses a hands-on approach to teaching. Hobbs has had the unique experience of having Herr as her large-animal veterinarian and teacher. This has allowed Hobbs to gain an even deeper understanding of animal sciences. “I like that she’s very hands-on,” Hobbs says.

Biggest reward

For Herr, the most rewarding part about teaching is watching her students connect the dots and understand the agriculture industry a little bit better. She explains that she had a student who went on a bit of a rabbit chase, a good one, asking all the right questions.

At the end of their time together, Herr said he figured out that farmers don’t get to determine how much they get paid — for any of their products — and they aren’t guaranteed anything. When they have an income, there are expenses, and yet, they turn around and do it all over again the next year. This conversation answered his question that so many today ask themselves: “Well, why do they do it?”

“This is a much better way to promote agriculture than on Facebook,” Herr says. “To just immerse them or give them exposure or allow them to see it in action allows them to form their own opinion.

“This generation gets ragged on a lot, but they really do want to learn and know that they matter. They really just need people in their lives to spend time with them. There’s some of them that have ‘days,’ but we all have ‘days.’ I think the future is secure and the working world will have people that will show up for work.”

While Herr’s primary focus now is in the classroom, every once in a while she finds herself back at the vet clinic working a few days over breaks or weekends. One thing remains true — whether she’s in the classroom or on a farm call, Herr always finds herself teaching others.

Baker is a senior in agricultural communication at Purdue University.

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