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Bret Marsh enjoyed livestock from an early age

Current state veterinarian and this year's Honorary Master Farmer grew up around animals.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

June 27, 2016

3 Min Read

Eli Lilly has a plant on Harding Street in Indianapolis where the old Indianapolis Stockyards operated for years. By the 1960s and ’70s, it wasn’t in the best of repair, but it still received hundreds of animals each day. To a young boy, it was full of sights and sounds and smells, and a glimpse of an occasional rat or two. Hogs and cattle and other animals moved from pen to pen as farmers brought them in, commission men bought them for buyers, and the animals were loaded onto trucks headed for various locations.


“My dad, Gene, was a commission man at the old Indianapolis Stockyards for many years,” says Bret Marsh, Indianapolis, Indiana’s state veterinarian and head of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. “I always enjoyed when I got to go with him. I was fascinated by the place, especially the animals. Dad spent a lot of his time buying hogs for a local packer.  

“We lived in the southeastern corner of Boone County. Mom went to Lebanon to shop, but we went to Sheridan High School. I was constantly around livestock, and I decided well before I graduated in 1977 that I wanted to become a veterinarian.”

Old-school training

Marsh studied animal sciences at Purdue University. In time he was admitted to Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine. But some of his most memorable education didn’t happen on campus.

“I interned at the Lebanon Veterinary Clinic,” he recalls. “Russ Hardin was the vet, and he was an old-time practitioner in many ways. Anyone who raised livestock in that general area probably remembers Doc Hardin.”


At 96, Hardin still lives in the area, Marsh says. Hardin was one of the legends of veterinary medicine in Indiana in his day, specializing in large animals.

That wasn’t the only experience that shaped Marsh’s veterinary training. “I interned with a practice in Kansas that worked with cow-calf herds and feedlots,” he recalls. “It really provided me with good experience in the beef industry."

In 1984 Marsh received his veterinary degree. But he didn’t go into private practice. “I had an opportunity to go into the public sector, and I’ve been there ever since,” he explains.

Path to state vet

In 1984, both meat inspection and dairy inspection were part of the Indiana State Department of Health, not BOAH. Marsh took a job as a meat inspector. During that time he met the late Tom Freas. Two years later, Freas was the state veterinarian at BOAH, and the swine director retired. Freas offered the position to Marsh. He accepted, and moved to BOAH.

“I cut my teeth on the pseudorabies eradication program,” he notes. “That was a learning experience, and I met producers and practitioners all over the state.” The last case of pseudorabies in swine in Indiana was in 2000. Indiana was declared pseudrabies-free in 2002.

Prior to that, Freas had retired, and Marsh was named state veterinarian starting Jan. 1, 1994.

Marsh is being recognized as an Honorary Master Farmer in the 2016 class. The award is sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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