By Matt Reese
In our own fine state of Ohio, it is illegal to drive Power Wheels cars down the street in Canton and, if someone loses their pet tiger, they are legally required to notify the authorities within an hour. In Cleveland, a hunting license is required for catching mice. A policeman is permitted to bite a dog to quiet the animal in the town of Paulding and, those who are planning on throwing a snake at someone should steer clear of Toledo where regulations prohibit such actions.
A quick Internet search can turn up some laws on the books in Ohio that seem pretty silly, but the reality is that common sense and regulations all too often seem to be mutually exclusive. In his role as the state veterinarian, Dr. Tony Forshey is working to develop and revamp regulation in a way that combines good sense and the need to protect the animals and agriculture of Ohio.
“One of my goals in coming here was to bring some common sense to the regulatory world,” Forshey said. “As a servant to the livestock and poultry industries in Ohio, it is my job to protect them. We need to constantly watch diseases, but some of the laws that we have are ridiculous and we are working to change that.”
As an example, there has been a recent increase in cases of trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted venereal disease in cattle that can cause infertility and abortions in cows.
“We thought we were done with this and we quit testing for it, but for producers still using bulls for breeding, it can still be a problem,” Forshey said.
As the disease was being found around the country, state veterinarians collaborated on containing and controlling the problem. Each state is responsible for its own regulations to control such issues.
To address the problem, Forshey could have required testing for the disease prior to crossing the state line into Ohio, but that offered a number of practical challenges.
“If someone bought a bull at a sale and is headed home at two in the morning, they do not want to sit at the state line and wait for a veterinarian to test their bull for trichomoniasis,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is to make interstate commerce harder, but we have to have some controls for diseases. So, we now require testing of non-virgin bulls coming into Ohio within 30 days.”
Forshey has tried to apply his “common sense” approach to every aspect of his job, both as a practicing veterinarian for 27 years and his roles as State Veterinarian since 2005 and a brief stint as the interim director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For his dedication to the livestock industry, Forshey recently received the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Beef Industry Service Award at the organization’s awards banquet last weekend. He has also received the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association’s Meritorious Award for service to the Ohio Swine Industry and the Ohio Pork Producers Council Service Award.
Forshey has built his career on lessons he learned growing up on his family’s small farm in Noble County with his six brothers and six sisters.
“I was the third oldest of 13 kids and the farm raised us. We had 300 acres with about 100 that you could farm. The rest was hillsides that were perfect for cattle. We had around 80 head,” he said. “We also raised hogs and had a four acre garden. We didn’t really buy anything from the grocery store. We were self-sufficient. On Thanksgiving we would always slaughter our own beef and hogs.”
The work ethic and business skills he learned on the farm set Forshey up for a career of success.
“My dad was a foreman at a factory and a township trustee so he worked all the time,” Forshey said. “By the time we were in high school, the kids in my family were running the farm.”
He then went to college at Ohio State University where he completed his bachelor’s and his DVM in 1977. After college, Forshey went to work in a six-man veterinary practice in Wauseon in northwest Ohio. Forshey started a practice of his own in 1982 that eventually expanded to two full service hospitals and 450 clients in five states. He worked with all food animals, but his specialty was swine.
“I spent 27 years trying to learn to think like a pig. That was how I could best serve my clients and I always worked to put my clients first. If they are out of business, I am out of business,” he said. “My cost to the producers was less than 2% of their production cost, yet I was a key part of whether they succeeded or not. I treated everybody equally on the farm, whether it was the owner, the manager, or the guy scraping manure because we needed to operate as a team.”
In taking on his role as State Veterinarian, Forshey has teamed up with Ohio’s livestock industry.
“My years in the practice are unbelievably helpful to me in this position and I have advisory committees with representatives including Extension specialists, veterinarians, producers, and farm organizations from the industry in every species. We have quarterly meetings to stay on top of what is going on,” Forshey said. “Ohio’s agricultural organizations are very easy to get along with and very easy to work with and collaborate with on regulatory issues.”
One major undertaking was the development of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards.
“Ohio is the first to have these guidelines established for animal care. That was a fairly long 14 months. It took a lot of effort. Elizabeth Harsh and others were just fantastic coming in to help out and to provide input on what those care standards would be,” he said. “Every time I turn around it seems like I am asking those in the industry for help and it has been a great relationship with all of the Ohio organizations. Not every state has those kinds of relationships.”
Another important recent development has been the U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement about the final rule establishing general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate.
“We have to have a way to trace these animals,” Forshey said. “Now, if we have an animal with brucellosis, we can go back to the farm of origin. With the starting point and the ending point, we can better find out where the animal was in between. Two years ago, we spent $100,000 on a tuberculosis trace back that took six month and we never found the animal, and that was just the part of the process that took place in Ohio. With the new regulations, we can save a lot of taxpayer dollars. Within minutes we are having conversations around the country about diseases if we find them. With diseases, it is all about rapid identification and rapid containment.”
Looking forward, Ohio’s livestock producers can be confident the Forshey is bringing his farm-raised “common sense” attitude to every aspect of his job, which, in this world that continues to distance itself from the realities of agricultural production, is increasingly uncommon.