By Denny Scott
For Dr. Lee Siertsema, owner of Blyth Veterinary Services, taking care of animals is just part of providing for the community in which he was raised.
Siertsema, who was raised just outside of Blyth, had his heart set on medicine when he graduated from F.E. Madill Secondary School, though back then, he thought his patients would be a little more bipedal. He decided, however, to pursue veterinary school and the rest, as they say, is history.
Blyth Veterinary Services is a full-service large animal medical service, Siertsema said, which differentiates it from a lot of larger farm clinics which specialize in specific animals, like dairy or equine practices. The reason he services pretty much any farm animal is because that’s the kind of service that his customers need: different practices for different animals.
Having grown up on a goat farm, he said he knows there is more than just dairy out there when it comes to vet practices.
Recently, with his hands firmly entrenched in a horse’s mouth, he explained that his business has swivelled thanks to some invaluable word-of-mouth in the Amish and Mennonite communities in Northern Huron and southern Bruce Counties.
“I did some work for one family and they shared my contact information and now I’m working for dozens of people in these communities,” he said.
The reason he’s found such success is because he puts a focus on caring for the animals in a way that makes sense for the customer, he says. The horse he was working on, for example, had a broken jaw.
“This kind of case could be referred to a larger centre or a specialist,” he said. “That comes with some cost though. Because I’m my own boss, I can take some chances, do some research and try to find a way to fix it that works for me and for the customer.”
In the case of this horse, that means wiring the bones back together and letting the body heal itself, which would cost substantially less than having a specialist look at the animal.
“My focus is on keeping it affordable, which means some more hands-on and do-it-yourself work, but it’s rewarding,” he said. “It’s good to work with smaller-scale farmers who have animals other than dairy.”
Siertsema said he made a choice to offer a wide variety of services because he felt that Blyth and the surrounding communities needed someone close to home to handle emergencies for all kinds of farm animals.
That choice has paid off, he said, both with how successful the practice is becoming and with how he is able to help his customers. He’s also found others who share his vision, saying he is bringing on another local veterinary student who will soon graduate, and expects the two of them to have the same passion for the vocation.
Siertsema started at the Blyth Veterinary Services in May of 2014, returning to Blyth after being away for 10 years, and three years later he started to take over the practice from Dr. Lavern Clark and Dr. Phil Garriock, with the latter still working at the clinic with him.
“The option came to take over and I had been here for awhile and wanted to run my own business,” Siertsema said, saying that desire played to his personality. “I had some interest from big clinics that asked me to work with them, but I want to be my own boss.”
Being his own boss allows him to help out where he can, when he can and means he can really be there for the community and his customers. That attitude is what led to his recent surge in popularity among his Amish and Mennonite customers.
“There are lots of cryptorchid animals in some of those communities,” he said, explaining a cryptorchid is a male horse with an undescended testicle. “There wasn’t anyone around that dealt with castrating those animals, but I figured I’d give it a try.”
After doing some research and watching other veterinarians conduct the procedure online, he decided to take the plunge.
“Word gets out when you’re willing to try new things like that,” he said. “That’s part of what led to my name becoming known the way it has.”
He is happy that those communities have reached out to him because it lets him work with what he believes is a big part of the future of farming and build lasting relationships with customers who will be in agriculture for a long time.
“You have young Amish and Mennonite farmers, and other young sheep and dairy farmers, and those are the people you like to be able to help out,” he said. “That’s agriculture in the new millenium: young people without a lot of backing trying to make their way through agriculture. I can see a lot of my younger self in them.”
He said these young farm families sometimes involve every member helping out, so everything is riding on making farming profitable, which means every time he can save them money or time, it’s a help, even when it means adopting a frontier doctor mindset and experimenting.
Siertsema said he’s happy to be in a small clinic because there can be a lot of turnover and drama in larger centres, and he can avoid most of that trouble, though the trade-off is a lot more time on-call.
Regardless, he says that he’s found the balance he can live with and the rewarding days make it all worthwhile.◊