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Ann Bailey, Forum News Service, Published May 27 2013

Veterinarian works dream job in rural North Dakota

PARK RIVER, N.D. — Cellphone in his left hand, Dr. Nathan Kjelland talks to a client about his sick calf.

“What kind of trouble?” he asks the farmer on the other end as he stands, miles away from the caller in the barn of Greg Bauer whose cows he’s preparing to vaccinate. As Kjelland listens to the voice on the phone, he uses a piece of board to separate Bauer’s two Red Angus cows that are heading into a squeeze chute.

On the phone, Kjelland suggests medication the farmer can the calf and encourages him to bring it into the Golden Valley Veterinary Clinic, near Park River, N.D., where he works, for an evaluation if it doesn’t help.

When Kjelland finishes the call, he puts his phone in his pocket and turns back to the business of vaccinating Bauer’s cows and applying an insecticide to their backs.

As the cows file into the chute, one by one, Kjelland talks about his road to a career in veterinary medicine. After his graduation from Park River High School in 1994, he attended Concordia College in Moorhead, majoring in biology, he said.

As an underclassman he wasn’t sure exactly what type of job that would be, but he did know that whatever it was needed to meet two specifications.

“I wanted to do something I could outdoors in North Dakota,” he said.

During Kjelland’s sophomore year of college, he decided he wanted to be a veterinarian. He grew up on a farm near Park River that had cows, horses, dogs and cats, and he enjoyed being around them.

“I’ve always really liked animals.”

Though it took him awhile to decide what direction he wanted to go with his biology major, his decision to be a veterinarian didn’t surprise his mother, Kjelland said.

“My mom informed me when I told her what I wanted to do …. ‘Oh, you wanted to do that forever.’”

After graduating from Concordia in 1998, Kjelland enrolled at veterinary school at the University of Minnesota. Because he enjoyed working with both large and small animals and wanted to someday return to the Park River area, he pursued a mixed practice in which he could be both a large and small animal veterinarian.

“I knew my goal wasn’t just to come back to North Dakota, but to come back to this area,” Kjelland said. “If I wasn’t a mixed animal person, I couldn’t live where I wanted.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota Veterinary School in 2002, Kjelland moved to Valley City, N.D., where he worked in a mixed practice for the next seven years. In 2009, he moved with his family to a farm near Park River, just a few miles from where he grew up.

His parents and brother live nearby and Kjelland, his wife, Britt Jacobson, and their daughter, Clara, 4, and son, Soren, 1, often see them. The ease of being able to do that is something Kjelland appreciates.

“Being able to be spontaneous and have supper together or go on a horseback ride or end up in church together on Sunday,” Kjelland said.

Kjelland works at Golden Valley Veterinary Clinic with owner Dr. Jeanette Bjornstad, one of his mentors growing up.

Kjelland brought enthusiasm and new ideas to her practice, Bjornstad said. Meanwhile, he is comfortable working with animals of all sizes.

“There aren’t a lot of people who want to do that,” Kjelland said.

He also has a good bedside manner with pet and livestock owners, Bjornstad noted.

“He’s sympathetic toward how people are feeling. That’s always a plus.”

Working with different types of animals keeps Kjelland’s job interesting, he said.

“If I just had to do cows or if I just had to do horses or if I just had to dogs, I would get tired of that.” At Golden Valley Veterinary Clinic, Kjelland could be working with all three — and more — on any given day.

That makes for a busy schedule, especially in the spring when cows are calving and farmers are having their animals vaccinated.

After Kjelland finished vaccinated Bauer’s cows and pouring on the insecticide, he gave their calves shots, put ear tags on them and castrated the bulls. When he finished with the bovine, he gave Bauer’s dog, Soapie, vaccinations for rabies and distemper and did the same for his cat, Blackie.

Holding Blackie in his arms, Kjelland stroked her while he talked to Bauer about what might be causing her to avoid using her litter box. After giving Bauer suggestions about what course of treatment to take with Blackie, he headed back to his pick-up stopping to pet Soapie on the way.

The rest of his day would be spent in the clinic treating small animals.

Kjelland says his reward is interacting with them.

“It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, when that calf you delivered starts getting licked by its mom and shaking its head, I can watch that all day.

“I really enjoy what I do.”