Veterinary surgeon, Gerard McGovern, has been practicing in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan for over 40 years. The large animal vet has a massive following on Instagram, where he shares intriguing and unusual cases he has encountered on his calls.
No doubt Gerard’s late father, Gregory McGovern, had a large influence on his life. Gregory was also a vet and started the veterinary practice in Ballyconnell in 1949.
Gerard recalled fondly going out on calls with his father as a young lad growing up and believes he wouldn’t be a vet only for him.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I finished school. But I thought sure veterinary is probably as good as anything else,” he said.
Gerard followed in his father’s footsteps and graduated from University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine in 1977. He returned to the family practice once qualified and has been working there ever since.
Gerard McGovern Veterinary Surgeon is a mixed practice, approximately 75% large animal and 25% small animal. He employs veterinary assistant, Michal Stojak, who attends the growing small animal surgery. While Gerard himself does the majority of the large animal work; mainly cattle and sheep, and some horses.
The practice covers a 10-12 mile radius, with about 25% of the practice located in Northern Ireland, given its close proximity to the Fermanagh border.
Large animal practice
Gerard’s expertise lies in general cattle practice. He is particularly interested in cattle medicine and obstetrics.
While this time of year is generally very quiet, Gerard did note more summer mastitis due to the warm weather, and an increase in the amount of hoose this year also.
He mentioned the long hours involved during the spring but explained his strategy: “Just work hard and keep going and look forward to the 1st of July.”
The Cavan vet has encountered many surprising cattle cases, such as acute lead poisoning, schistosoma calves and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.
One condition Gerard finds fascinating is bovine neonatal pancytopenia (BNP), also known as bleeding calf syndrome.
BNP is a highly fatal condition that can affect newborn calves, and as the name suggests, the symptoms of this disease are bleeding from skin, mucosal membranes, and sometimes the intestines.
“I’ve only ever seen four cases. It’s only been in the last 10 years that we’ve had it in Ireland. They’re always interesting,” Gerard said.
The best thing about veterinary, in Gerard’s opinion, is when things are going well.
“Good results on cases, whether it be a cow calving or an animal that you thought wasn’t going to make it and it actually does. You always get a kick out of something like that.
“Or you arrive on a case with a cow with a bad prolapse and it works out well. Or a milk fever case that’s flat out and you’re worried will she get up, then before you leave the farm the cow is standing. Any of those things,” Gerard explained.
Words of advice
Gerard shared a few words of advice for young vets from his time in the profession.
“See lots of practice and don’t concentrate one particular species. Go to lots of different places, even if its abroad, to see practice.
“Don’t make your mind up until you’ve seen what’s there, and you’ve qualified a year or two and you’ve done a bit of everything,” he said.
After qualifying, Gerard came straight home back to the family practice. “We did no small animals at the time and I never really done anything since only cattle and sheep and I sort of regret that now. I should have gone away for a while and seen a few other things,” Gerard explained.
The role of social media in veterinary
Gerard stumbled onto Instagram and Twitter just by accident, however, his Instagram account, lhotse09, has amassed an incredible 22.9k followers.
‘Adventures of a large animal vet’ captures the everyday and the remarkable, all set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cavan countryside.
“I think social media has a very important role. It’s great for maintaining contact with other vets, vet students and vets around the world,” Gerard said.
Highlighting its use an educational tool, he stated: “I’ve learned more on Instagram in the last three years than I did in the previous 20. Even by just following other veterinary accounts you learn so much and how things are done in different countries.”
“You can talk to different vets and within a couple of hours you can have 10 different opinions from 10 different countries. So, its brilliant from that point of view,” Gerard added.Into the future, Gerard hopes to maintain the interest in the practice and continue to develop it. You can follow his adventures on his Instagram account: @lhotse09