Taking Care: A Business – Zumbro Falls veterinarian Sarah Mehrkens cares for creatures great and small

vetIn the 1960s, 100 percent of veterinarians were men. Dr. Sarah Mehrkens, owner of Zumbro Falls Veterinary Clinic, is glad that has changed. Today, 77 percent of today’s veterinary graduates are women.

    “It’s a great profession, and I am thankful I have had the opportunity,” said Mehrkens. “I have wanted to be a vet since I was 13,” she said. 

When Mehrkens was young, her father was injured in a diving accident and became a quadriplegic. That meant that she had a great deal of work and responsibility at home. Her grandparents were dairy farmers, and so she also helped milk and feed cows and bale hay on hot summer days.

    Her love of animals was paramount in her determination to become a veterinarian, but she also wanted a profession that would give her a good financial position. Mehrkens pursued her dream and at 22 was one of the youngest in her graduating class. Now, 10 years later, she owns her own clinic.

    “I knew I wanted my own business. People in the area know I grew up on a farm, and though
I am young, they trust me. Yes, it has headaches, but I like being my own boss. I can set my hours…most of the time.” And they are long hours at best.

    If running her own business is not enough, Mehrkens and her husband, Raleigh, farm with his family. She and their children help with chores, and Mehrkens makes it a priority to be around as often as she can when the kids are home. She has little Eli, 1, Emily, 3, Spencer, 6, and Simon, 8.

    Early morning finds her taking care of the kids and making the farm calls. It is not uncommon for one of her children to tag along. People are understanding, and the kids play or get to see what Mom does.

    “I think my daughter may grow up to be a vet,” Mehrkens said.

From calves to cats

Mehrkens has seen the veterinary business change dramatically in the last 10 years.

    “When I got out of school, I worked for Anderson Vet Service in Zumbrota, strictly with beef and dairy cattle from 2001 to 2005.” When Mehrkens opened her own vet clinic in 2005 after baby number two, her business was primarily large animal. “Now it is 90 percent small animals (people have a lot of pets) and large animals only 10 percent.”

    Why the dramatic change? There are several reasons. The nature of farming has evolved with dwindling numbers  of diversified farms (those that incorporate animals and field farming), so large grain farms exist with no animals. There are also herds of feeder cattle or large dairy farms who use specialty veterinarians. Smaller, independent veterinarians are focusing on the small-animal business and less on farm animals, so fewer doctors have been working with large animals.

    “It is an interesting business. Now, there is a shortage of large-animal veterinarians. Colleges are adjusting their criteria. When I applied to vet school, only 76 seats were available to the 1,500 students who applied. Now a certain number of those seats are saved for students pursuing a large animal career. There is also a fast track program for large animal interest to ensure we have enough large animal vets for the future.”

    Dr. Sarah Mehrkens has a successful farm life, family and veterinary practice. She is just as likely to be found delivering a calf as neutering a cat. Her clients are glad as well, knowing that she is available to meet their needs.

    “It is definitely a balancing act,” said Mehrkens. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”