“I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. Although I did go through a brief phase in high school where I was interested in psychology and law. This has been helpful in my career as a veterinarian. Prior to working as a regulatory veterinarian, I worked at two different mixed animal practices, working with many species, but primarily cattle, dogs, cats, and horses. I have seen how many farmers and ranchers live their profession. Veterinarians do, too. Even though some people may not see how a veterinarian who works for the government impacts agriculture, almost every thing we do affects animal agriculture; animal welfare, antibiotic use, disease prevention, disease control, disease eradication, animal importation requirements and exotic pet ownership regulation. All these things are done to ensure the strength of our livestock industry and protect public health.” Dr. Beth Carlson, Deputy State Veterinarian for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture/State Board of Animal Health.
Dr. Beth Carlson is a rural North Dakota raised farm and ranch woman. She says it like it is. She works tirelessly for all animals across North Dakota. She is smart and bold and to me is an example for any young person to look up to, showcasing you can go anywhere you want to go. You can be anything you want to be by setting goals and working to accomplish them. Beth is an example of that coming from a very small town in North Dakota to becoming a veterinarian.
Beth is my friend, my former colleague and I have seen in her in action. If I was going into a battle, I would want Beth by my side. She’s loyal and strong. She is a realist. She fights for what is right and just. She is honest and forthright. And her wit and humor is authentically her own which I love.
Beth’s example of how she lives her life with the circumstances she has been given, circumstances she cannot change has been an example and inspiration to me as a woman in agriculture, juggling a career and as a mother and wife. This past year, Beth was named North Dakota Veterinarian of the Year, voted on by fellow veterinarians. She is most deserving. Her path was not exactly the path she dreamed for in her veterinarian career. But it is a path she is living out as best she can. Beth’s courage, strength and ability to keep going when the going gets tough should be celebrated. I asked her a tough question for me to ask the other day and that was “Is it public that you have MS?” and then “Would you willing to share about it?” I asked because I think it is important to highlight Beth’s example. We all are dealt conditions and circumstances we cannot change. You can quit or keep going. Beth has not quit. She persevered.
Beth agreed to share her story of living with MS for the past eleven years along with her other insightful and witty answers to the below women in agriculture questions. I am honored to feature her. Beth is originally from Monango, North Dakota and currently resides in rural Baldwin, North Dakota, near Bismarck. Beth is the mother to Grant and Nora and wife to Dr. Jacob Carlson, daughter of Fred and Marcia Wagner, Ellendale, North Dakota and sister to Mark (Val) and Bryan (Lynita) Wagner.
In 2002, when I had only been practicing for about a year and a half, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was pretty devastating at the time, because I had wanted nothing more than to be a “cow doc” for so long. I was still able to be a veterinarian, but if I spent day after day out working cattle, I was exhausted at night. When I had emergency calls in the middle of the night, I could barely function the next day. It forced me to look at other options. I worked as a mixed animal veterinarian for another two years, spending more of my time in the clinic working with companion animals and haul-in cattle and horse cases. This worked pretty well, but I didn’t feel as connected to animal agriculture as I wanted. That is when I had the opportunity to apply to work for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture/State Board of Animal Health. It is far from what I thought I’d be doing when I graduated from veterinary school, but life doesn’t often work out the way you’d expect. I’ve been fortunate that my MS has been relatively benign thus far. About once every year or two, I’ll have a flare up that lasts a few weeks. I also have a pretty low tolerance of extreme heat and cold. But all in all, I have been pretty fortunate.
What is your role in agriculture today? I serve as the Deputy State Veterinarian for the ND Department of Agriculture/State Board of Animal Health. It is our statutory responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the domestic animals and non-traditional livestock of the state. We do a lot of different things, working with practicing veterinarians, producers, and animal health officials in other states. Additionally we work with other state agencies: planning for and responding to animal emergencies with the Department of Emergency Services, and working on zoonotic disease issues (those that affect both people and animals) and animal environmental issues (carcass disposal, feed/pasture contamination, etc) with the Department of Health. Our office also does some field work relating to diseases that there are federal or state programs in place for and we work with local law enforcement authorities on complaints regarding animal treatment. My husband and I also own Red Angus/Simmental cross cattle with my brothers, Mark and Bryan Wagner. We assist with the cattle operation on occasion and do most of the veterinary work for the herd. I am also involved with the ND Veterinary Medical Association, the ND Stockmen’s Association, and the United States Animal Health Association.
How has agriculture shaped your life? Agriculture has always been my life. I grew up on a beef cattle/small grains farm. My dad’s life was (and pretty much still is) the farm. Other than to visit my mom’s family each year, we didn’t go on family vacations. All our “quality time” was spent working. That is still how my brothers and I spend our “quality time”. Growing up, I spent hours every day in the barn during calving season. I was given the task of keeping an eye on the cattle in the summertime when the men were farming. I’ve unloaded a lot of grain trucks, and I can drive a mean silage truck. I am a pretty decent cook, too. (I think I would’ve made a great farm wife, but alas, I fell in love with a veterinarian.) I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. Although I did go through a brief phase in high school where I was interested in psychology and law. This has been helpful in my career as a veterinarian.
Prior to working as a regulatory veterinarian, I worked at two different mixed animal practices, working with many species, but primarily cattle, dogs, cats, and horses. I have seen how many farmers and ranchers live their profession. Veterinarians do, too. Even though some people may not see how a veterinarian who works for the government impacts agriculture, almost every thing we do affects animal agriculture; animal welfare, antibiotic use, disease prevention, disease control, disease eradication, animal importation requirements and exotic pet ownership regulation. All these things are done to ensure the strength of our livestock industry and protect public health.
Who/what serves as a source of encouragement for you? You know, my mom is pretty much the perfect mom, at least for me, and has always been a wonderful vocal source of encouragement, but she’s not a rah-rah cheerleader. She is a realist, tells it like it is, emphasizes the positive, but doesn’t ignore the negative… for example she would say that it was okay that I wasn’t the best athlete on the team, because I did well academically. She also let us live our own lives… not like the helicopter parenting thing we see now. She was the hands-on parent that did most of the child-rearing, but despite my dad leaving most of that to my mom, he actually set a really good example by always treating my mom really well.
I have been, um, fuller figured most of my life, but my parents emphasized function over appearance… the way good commercial cow people do. You don’t have to be the prettiest cow to be the most productive. I think I have pretty good self-esteem as a result. (Thank you, cows.)
What do you do to encourage others? I try to encourage like my mom does… realistically. Don’t ignore the negatives, but stress the positives and go from there. Emphasize your strengths, and work on improving your weaknesses. You can’t be good at everything, but do everything as well as you can. And don’t expect showers of praise for everything you do.
Which children’s book best describes your childhood/life? “Euphonia and the Flood” is a book about this little old lady who always says “If it’s worth doing, its worth doing well”. When her creek floods, she hops in her boat with her broom and her pig, Fatly. They go down the river, rescuing people and animals out of trees, enjoying a lovely meal at the end. No hidden message here: My parents always taught us to do our best, and take pride in a job well done. And I like helping people and love animals. And I love to eat. So this is pretty much the perfect book.
What is your favorite home-cooked meal? At our house, steak, potatoes, salad and rhubarb custard pie… and just about anything my mom makes.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor? I don’t think I could ask for better mentors than those I’ve had. My dad showed my how to work hard and take pride in my work and my mom showed me the importance of patience, compassion, and helping out in the community. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my brothers… disturbing to many who know them, I’m sure. I’ve had amazing teachers, like Russ Danielson and Paul Berg at NDSU, and everybody at Iowa State, especially John U. Thompson and Mike Apley. I have also learned so much from Susan Keller, the State Veterinarian. I’ve taken away something valuable from every veterinarian I’ve ever worked with, or even talked with; I just love veterinarians. They are a fascinating group of people.
If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be? It is okay to disagree, and just because we disagree, it doesn’t mean we can’t be respectful of one another and work together! This is particularly true in agriculture. We all have to work together… there aren’t enough of us to get our message across if we are fragmented. I have friends with different political views, social views, and religious views. I appreciate the perspective they give me when they present their views respectfully. I have no tolerance for intolerant people. Is that contradictory? I strongly believe that we have to use the technology available if we want to be able to feed a growing planet, but I don’t think we should prohibit people from making other choices. On that same note, those folks cannot stand in the way of science.
What makes you smile? My kids. My husband. Those ridiculous e-cards. Great puns. SNL’s weekend update. Crabby old Germans-from-Russia. My neatly mowed lawn. My cows. My beautiful red cows. Other people’s beautiful red cows. Fat, happy cows of any color. Fixing broken cows. Tasty cows. Cows.
Thank you, Beth for being an example of a woman in agriculture young people can look up to and believe in achieving their dreams. I admire your drive and ability to achieve your dreams despite obstacles! She doesn’t have a blog or other social media platforms to share as she said “I barely have time to do my laundry” but feel free please to share her story, leave her a comment and be inspired by her example. For those missing out on everyday Pinke Post happenings, connect with me on Facebook and Instagram. Subscribe in the right column by email to not miss any updates.
Earlier Women in Agriculture features this month include:
November 16: Marie Bowers, Oregon Grass Seed Farmer
November 1: Introducing 30 Days of Women in Agriculture
For a listing of all the 30 Days Bloggers that Holly Spangler rounded up, visit here.