Growing up next to his uncle’s dairy farm, Dr. Charles E. Gardner, DVM, was curious about the world of dairy farming from an early age. After deciding to become a bovine veterinarian, Gardner enjoyed a lengthy career as a cow doctor – one that allowed him to work with dairy farmers on a daily basis, positively impacted his family, taught him unforgettable life lessons and helped spark his adventurous spirit.
Earlier this year, Gardner, who spent about 26 years working as a large animal veterinarian, published a memoir filled with stories of his time working in veterinary medicine while raising his family. Titled The Blessed Life of a Cow Doctor, the inspiration for the book came from his passion for storytelling and his desire for his grandchildren to get a true understanding of his life.
“I wanted my grandchildren to know me. I see them regularly, but they don’t really know what it was like to be a dairy veterinarian back in the '70s. It was an adventuresome, exciting type of life,” Gardner shares. “I also love telling stories. It was a labor of love to write the book. I have a lot of philosophies and beliefs about life that I like to share with people, and those all came out in the book, too.”
The book not only captures both the challenges and rewards of working in the agriculture industry, but it highlights the power of family and forgiveness.
A career to remember
One of the most memorable parts of Gardner’s book is the combination of honest reflection and lighthearted storytelling. With the goal of sharing highlights from his career with his grandchildren, Gardner documents important memories and milestones throughout the memoir.
“I don’t know much about my grandfathers. One had a dairy farm, milked cows by hand and went through the transition to milk[ing] cows with milking machines. What was life like in those days to deal with those changes? I don’t know because he never talked about it,” Gardner says. “My other grandfather had his own business that went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and he had six children to feed. What was that like? So, I wanted to document what [my life] has been like. If my grandchildren were ever wondering what it was like to be a bovine veterinarian or a cow doctor, I’ve written it for them.”
Along with the book’s focus on family and the veterinary practice, Gardner also weaves in poignant stories from his time interacting with dairy farmers and treating animals. In “A Night to Remember,” one of the vet stories that is included in the book, Gardner reflects on two cases that kept him up the entire night when he worked in pet practice. The two emergencies happened on the same night, and both led to positive outcomes, including a heroic surgery and a challenging diagnosis that ultimately saved a dog’s life.
“We did save the animals’ lives [that night]. They were challenging, and I had to go above and beyond. It took some fairly extraordinary efforts, but I’m proud of those two cases,” Gardner says.
In other stories throughout the book, Gardner opens up about some of the more challenging learning experiences he had as a veterinarian. He recalls one experience where he was treating a horse and an infected organ was ruptured in the process. The horse unfortunately bled to death in front of Gardner and the owner.
“If I had been a little sharper, I think I might have prevented that. I left feeling completely dejected, and I told the owner they owed me nothing,” Gardner shares. “A couple days later, I received an envelope from them. I expected them to be angry. Instead, they were thanking me for my kind and caring manner. I learned that when people know you care, they’ll forgive a whole lot.”
Intertwining family and business
Throughout the book, Gardner reveals just how intertwined his family and career were – a way of life that will resonate with many dairy farmers. He reminisces on the times where his children rode along with him to farms or visited him at the clinic, which was right behind their house. Being able to share his family’s memories and legacies has been a meaningful part of his journey to publish this book.
“If my grandchildren can read an experience I had and learn a life lesson, or it somehow influences them for the better, what better reward could I get than that?” Gardner adds.
The book also touches on Gardner’s respect and admiration for the dairy farmers he has crossed paths with throughout his career.
“Through many years of working with dairy farmers, I’ve come to admire their dedication to their cows, to the industry and to their families. I admire how hard they work at it,” Gardner says. “In today’s world, you have to be sharp to manage a successful dairy farm. It’s not an easy business. They are very sharp managers, good business people, but overwhelmingly, they are also just good people. I’ve been treated very well by the dairy farmers I’ve interacted with during my career.”
Supporting the next generation
When it comes to his grandchildren and the next generation who will be pursuing careers in the dairy industry, Gardner’s biggest piece of advice is to find a career they are passionate about and work that they truly enjoy.
To help support the next generation, Gardner has partnered with the Dairy Excellence Foundation on a unique “stories for a cause” opportunity. With a $25 donation to the foundation, individuals will receive a copy of The Blessed Life of a Cow Doctor. Proceeds from the contributions will benefit the foundation’s youth development programs – including hands-on educational experiences for high school students, scholarship opportunities and more.
“I thought it was a win-win situation. I believe it’s important to reach young people. I saw an opportunity to do some mutual good,” Gardner shares.