PERRY, Ga. — Watching J.W. Gentry work the Georgia Grown Baby Barn at the Georgia National Fair is like watching a small-town mayor meet his constituents at a barbecue on the town square. Everybody knows and likes him, two truths made self-evident by the conversational circles that swallow him up whenever he walks the floor in plain clothes.
Once he dons the overalls and gloves of the large animal veterinarian he has labored many years to become, strangers gather ‘round, too.
Gentry graduated with his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine in May of 2023.
His desire to return to his hometown of Perry and join a mixed animal practice that cares for both companion animals and farm animals is unique, hence his presence at the baby barn in October of 2022. There is a critical need for large animal veterinarians to ensure quality care for food animals in the United States, but most veterinary students do not choose that path.
According to data compiled by CVM’s office of Clinical Academic Affairs, about 65 percent of members of the Class of 2022 declared their intent to enter small animal practice exclusively; 15 percent chose large animal practice; 10 percent declared for mixed animal practice; and five percent entered non-clinical settings such as research.
The baby barn is a joint venture of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter that puts large animal veterinarians in the spotlight and offers fairgoers the opportunity to witness the live births of dairy calves as part of the fair-going experience. Traditionally CVM veterinary faculty oversee care of the cows during their stay at the fair.
In 2022, however, Gentry took the reins.
“He really stepped up and just kind of took the lead on everything,” says Brad Heins, associate clinical professor in the CVM’s Teaching Hospital in Athens. “We were there to provide support and oversight if he needed it, but for the most part we let JW lead the show and he did a great job with it. The Georgia Department of Agriculture was really happy with everything he did and accomplished.”