Feature Story

The Science & Business of Animal Health

Dr. Martin Mohr has been fascinated with the veterinary field since he was a young boy. You might say he has his father to thank for that.

Born and raised in Springfield, Minnesota, Martin Mohr is one of six kids. His father was the town’s veterinarian. Mohr and his siblings found their first part-time jobs at their father’s veterinary clinic. It was also a way to spend additional time with their dad.

“When I was young, my brother Mike and I would ride along with him to farm visits to be able to spend more time with him,” Mohr said. “It also helped expose me to the country life because we lived in town. My interest in animals and agriculture started there. When I was older, I would work after school at my dad’s veterinary clinic, where I did everything from mixing medication to assisting out on calls with him.”

When he was 15 years old, Mohr begged his parents to let him use the money he had saved up from his paper route to buy a couple of calves. That summer, he and his siblings rented a barn outside of Springfield and took care of their small herd.

“Eventually that led to buying 50 pigs and feeding them for my summer job,” Mohr said. “Little by little the profits from that venture helped fund my college.”

Mohr enrolled at the University of Minnesota’s College of Agriculture, where he graduated with degrees in animal science and agricultural economics in 1989.

“I took classes in everything from meat science to physiology to nutrition with the intention and interest to use that education to pursue a veterinary degree,” Mohr said.

Where Business and Science Meet
Mohr’s dual focus on animal science and agricultural economics opened his eyes to the tremendous amount of science and business acumen required in agriculture. He also discovered a deep interest in both areas of study.

“The business of agriculture was very intriguing to me,” Mohr said. “I always enjoyed those concepts and used them at an early age, and I continue to use them to this day. I knew you really needed those business skills and an agriculture education background in the business of veterinary medicine.”

At the time Mohr was finishing his undergraduate degrees, there was an increasing demand for veterinarians to care for large herds.

“After I graduated in the spring of 1989, I attended veterinary school at the University of Minnesota,” Mohr said. “It really helped me in following my father’s footsteps because he attended the same college and graduated in 1961. I was very comfortable with that career path because of my undergraduate degree and early upbringing of my summer jobs, plus my brother was also already in veterinary school at Kansas State University.”

While pursuing his veterinary degree, Mohr was exposed to a multitude of fields that he eventually applied in his practice. Areas of study included everything from animal disease diagnostics to pathology, research and computerized production records.

Mohr began providing veterinary services in 1993, working with farmers around the Midwest for nearly 27 years. In 2020 his veterinary career came full circle when he opened his own veterinary practice, Mohr Vet, in the same Springfield location his father worked from.

“My dad started his veterinarian practice in 1961, and I’m lucky enough to still be able to use the same building and location in downtown Springfield,” Mohr said. “I have a lot of good memories working in the building. The building is a great location for my business.”

Emphasis on Swine and Beef Production
While his father treated animals of any size, Mohr’s primary focus is consulting with swine and beef producers.

“When I started in this field, the swine industry was evolving in Minnesota and the Midwest,” Mohr said. “There was a demand and need for swine veterinary leadership in the area because it was vastly growing in popularity.”

In the swine industry, Mohr’s practice assists with disease prevention, disease elimination strategies, herd reproduction and growth performance. Swine production is increasingly technical and scientific, so Mohr collaborates with farm managers, field supervisors, staff veterinarians and nutritionists to meet these challenges.

“I do all size herds — there isn’t one that is too big or too small,” Mohr said. “These days, farms are made up of many different entities, from investor groups to family farmers to corporate farms.”

With degrees in veterinary medicine, animal science and agricultural economics, Mohr’s educational training has allowed him to offer a variety of services to his clients.

“Agriculture and livestock in southern Minnesota make a big impact on our economy,” Mohr said. “This multidisciplinary training helps farms adapt and succeed to be viable. I’m lucky to be able to provide that to my customers.”

A Focus on Prevention
Today veterinary medicine focuses on disease prevention to help mitigate the spread of infections. Through adaptive vaccinations, Mohr uses immunology to minimize antimicrobial use.

“The end goal, of course, is to provide a safe protein product, in this case, meat, for the consumers,” Mohr said. “Consumers want to know that what they’re eating is safe and where it came from. With modern animal welfare practices, we’re successfully doing that in our country. Our responsibility is big.”

Mohr said proper and strategic immunizations and treatments are important to minimize naturally occurring diseases in cattle and swine: “It is my responsibility to serve the farmer with advice for cost-effective and prudent use of antibiotics and vaccines.”

On a typical day, Mohr will visit with customers and herds, or the teams responsible for animal production. The frequency of herd visits depends on the need for treatment or prevention. If an outbreak occurs that requires more attention, he relies on flexibility to address the needs of the herd.

Though he has a clinic in Springfield, much of Mohr’s time is spent in his truck, which he utilizes as a mobile office. Because he’s on the road traveling to herds in Minnesota, northern Iowa and eastern South Dakota, Mohr said regular communication has been key to his practice’s success.

“Between texting, calling and emailing, my business protocol is to answer any questions the farm may have to help them make the best decision for their herds,” Mohr said. “Behind the scenes, we also rely heavily on veterinary diagnostic labs so we can make the soundest decisions.”

In fact, as a veterinarian, Mohr said he can’t do without the diagnostic labs.

“We do a lot of clinical decision making based on their results,” Mohr said. “They have the technology to pinpoint the disease and to find out what is really going on with the animal that helps us make better decisions today. I couldn’t do my work without them.”

Mohr Vet Research
In addition to his swine veterinarian practice, Mohr uses diagnostic labs at his research business.

For more than two decades, Mohr has been providing research for biological, pharmaceutical and nutrition companies. Mohr Vet Research also opened in 2020, though Mohr has been providing the services for the past 25 years.

“I conduct contract research when companies develop new products and need to make sure it’s effective under real field conditions,” Mohr said. “It’s allowed me to learn more in-depth science in the veterinary medical field that I wouldn’t normally get to do. I can do experiments to help find answers to their different questions.

“I wanted to add in that second business not only because there’s a need, but also because I have an interest. It requires detailed planning and that can be a challenge, but I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s as simple as figuring out what’s working between treatment A and treatment B.”

Mohr said that the agricultural and veterinary field is a fast-changing environment, which means that as a veterinarian, he must adapt and adjust.

“It may have been hard to think about at first, but it changes a lot,” he said. “Even what I do now from what I did when I graduated from veterinary school in 1993 is completely different. The demands of customers have also changed with what they request from the veterinary field, but you have to change with the times.”

Lifelong Learning
Mohr Vet and Mohr Vet Research will continue to grow with the goal of helping customers achieve continued success. For Mohr, this means constant improvement and continuing education.

In addition to growing his two businesses, Mohr is finishing his master’s degree in livestock systems health from the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine. The program encompasses health-related issues in population medicine, human resource management, business and immunology. His continuing education is a way to refresh his skill set.

“I wanted to position myself for the years ahead,” Mohr said. “I’ve always tried to do lifelong learning. Everything changes, and you have to continue to learn.”

Over the years, Mohr has learned different ways to be successful from various groups of people in his life.

“I learned a lot of medical information from … my dad. He said it was important to always solve your clients’ problems,” Mohr said. “No. 2, I learned from my colleagues. And (No. 3), from my customers. These three groups have both mentored me and had a big influence on my success.”

Mohr’s family is also involved in the fields of health and science. He met his wife at the University of Minnesota while she was studying food science. Their four children have chosen occupations in food science, optometry and pharmacy, with their youngest starting college last fall.

“It has been fun watching my children develop an interest in health, science and agriculture,” Mohr said.

Since becoming a veterinarian nearly 30 years ago, Mohr said what he appreciates most is the ability to solve problems for his clients and help make a difference.

“It’s my passion to help the farmers that are feeding the world through healthy, quality and wholesome products for the food supply,” Mohr said. “We’re feeding a lot of people. For years upon years, you can look back and say, ‘Wow, we fed a lot of people.’ That’s why I do it.”

The Original Mohr Vet

Born 6 miles south of New Ulm, Dr. Hilary Mohr was one of 10 children and grew up on the family farm. His interest in the veterinary field was sparked when he was 14 years old and watched the town veterinarian, Dr. Tony Eckstein, deliver a calf on Christmas Eve.

“I had never seen this before,” Hilary Mohr said. “I was so impressed, and Dr. Eckstein helped encourage me to be a veterinarian.”

Hilary Mohr graduated from Holy Trinity High School in New Ulm in 1949 and attended St. John’s University for three years, studying pre-veterinarian, before he was drafted into the Korean War.

When he returned to Minnesota, he continued his education, receiving an undergraduate degree in agriculture education from the University of Minnesota in 1956. He taught agriculture education in Montgomery for one year before pursuing his veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota.

The elder Mohr opened Springfield Veterinary Clinic in downtown Springfield in 1961 with the goal of providing exceptional animal care to the community.

“When I graduated there were openings all over because every town needed a veterinarian,” Hilary Mohr said. “The veterinarian in Springfield wanted to leave to focus on equines in Florida, so I took that job and was the solo practitioner for nine years.”

Hilary Mohr brought new ideas and a different focus to his veterinary practice that included up-to-date medicine and an emphasis on obstetrics.

“What I liked most was helping people and getting into their shoes and getting to know them on a personal level,” Hilary Mohr said. “I wanted to know what were their fears and successes? You’d have to have a personal relationship with them. We didn’t have diagnostic labs like they do now, so you had to rely on the honesty of the farmer to tell you what the symptoms of their animal were. It was just different back then.”

By the time he retired, Hilary Mohr had more than 150 clients from areas including Sleepy Eye and Comfrey. His practice grew to include five veterinarians working with small animals, cattle and swine.

The Invention of the Veterinary Grip

When Dr. Hilary Mohr opened his veterinary clinic, pharmaceutical company representatives carried medication in veterinary boxes made of plywood that quickly became odorous and dirty.

Hilary Mohr solved this problem by inventing a veterinary medical grip in 1976. His grip was made of Cycolac resin, a material also used to make snowmobile hoods, with stainless steel hinges that withstood rust from moisture and corrosion from chemicals. “The old bags were smelly and dirty, and you couldn’t wash them. So I thought, ‘Why not make a grip that’s acceptable to veterinarians that can be cleaned, has stainless steel, can fit in your truck and can also carry larger bottles of medication?’” Hilary Mohr said. “These didn’t weigh nearly as much as the old ones and were very strong. Heat and cold did not affect them.”

Hilary Mohr was a silent partner in manufacturing the veterinary grips with a company in Morgan. The grips were produced until 2010, with more than 4,000 sold across the United States in areas including South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and Oklahoma, and internationally to Bangladesh, Canada and Australia.

“It was a wonderful hobby,” Hilary Mohr said. “Once I retired from veterinary clinic, I would just make them in my basement office where it was warm. The pattern would be drawn, heat molded and then I would have to saw the pieces apart, miter and then punch holes in them.”

Mohr still carries one of his father’s veterinary grips. They have also been used by actors and veterinarians on the television shows “The Incredible Dr. Pol” and “Heartland.”

The Essentials

Mohr Vet/Mohr Vet Research
12 South Marshall Ave.
Springfield, MN 56087
Phone: (507) 500-6647
Web: mohrvet.org

Photography by Jonathan Smith

Anna Vangsness

A freelance writer from New Ulm.