Documentary: Farm Vet

Country roads are a familiar place for Dr. Eastman Welsford. As a large animal veterinarian, he serves rural communities across Eastern Ontario, from the Quebec border to Smith Falls. 

“I probably spend about four to five hours a day just driving,” said Welsford. “It’s one of the only downsides of this job.”

He arrives in Williamstown, Ontario, on a rainy Thursday morning for the first of three appointments that day. While he works with a range of livestock, including cows and goats, the day would be focused on horses. He starts by examining a patient whose sight has been damaged by a recent eye infection.

Welsford, a relatively young vet, has only spent a year working in the field and has already become a familiar face to the clients he serves. He has been frequently checking on the horses at Anna Williams’ barn, a local dermatologist who owns multiple show ponies. He has to break  the news to her that her horse may not regain its sight, possibly leading to other future medical issues that he’ll continue to monitor. He then performs a routine dental float—a procedure that involves filing down a horse’s sharp teeth with a power tool—on a younger pony of hers. 

His next stop is an impromptu appointment with a horse showing signs of a neurological illness in Bishop’s Mills, about an hour and a half away. To make his daily road trips easier, he looks for any useful way to pass the time.

“A lot of that time [driving] feels wasted—I’m not making any money for the practice, billing or seeing patients,” said Welsford. “So I try to call clients during that time or listen to continuing education courses to make the most of it.”

Once he finished his appointment in Bishop’s Mills, he heads back to the Prescott Animal Hospital, where he splits his time between its partner clinic in Navan and his house in Ottawa.

He performs an x-ray and ultrasound on a young horse dealing with back pain. The clinic has an expansive range of procedural tools, including an operating room where cows and horses are lifted by small crane to relocate them after receiving anesthesia. In a corner stall, another horse is hooked up to an IV drip to be monitored overnight. 

As he works with his last client, his chipper persona is infectious. He coos over the stressed animal, referring to it affectionately as “honey” and apologizing to it for the uncomfortable procedures. He takes great care to put each patient—and their owners—at ease. 

After wrapping up his final appointment for the day, he leans against a counter in a show of exhaustion. 

“Don’t get too comfortable,” his co-worker teases him. “You’re on call tonight.”

While he gets to go home for the night, he’ll be on call for emergencies in the region until 8am.

Welsford laughs and knocks on a wooden table for good luck. “Here’s hoping nothing happens tonight.”

Dr. Eastman Welsford walks into a barn for his first appointment on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford assesses a horse with an eye infection on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford photographs the horse’s eye to keep track of its progress on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. He’s been checking on this patient every other week since September. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford explains to Anne Williams that her horse has gone blind in one eye from a recent infection on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. There’s a chance this could be permanent. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford injects a horse with tranquilizer while the horse’s owner, Anna Williams, strokes his nose to calm him on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford places a dental tool over a horses mouth on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford performs a dental float on a horse on December 2, 2021 in Williamstown, Ontario. Dental floats involve filing down the sharp parts of horses’ teeth, a procedure they need roughly every six months. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Williamstown, Ontario on December 2, 2021. Dr. Welsford spends roughly four to five hours a day driving across Eastern Ontario to see his different clients. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford observes a horse with suspected neurological damage to see if his run is off-balance on December 2, 2021 in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario. The horse was barely able to walk the week prior, but his condition improved significantly since then. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford walks a horse with suspected neurological damage to check his coordination on December 2, 2021 in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford’s medicine case on December 2, 2021 in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario. Dr. Welsford brings the case along to each patient’s appointment. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford discusses a horse dealing with backpain with her owner at the in-patient clinic in Prescott, Ontario on December 2, 2021. He splits his time between two clinics in Prescott and Navan, Ontario. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford shows a client an x-ray of her horse’s spine in Prescott, Ontario on December 2, 2021. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
A dehydrated horse is hooked up to an IV drip at the Prescott Animal Hospital, where Dr. Welsford works. ROBYN BELL/Concordia
Dr. Welsford rests and chats with a co-worker after his last appointment of the day in Prescott, Ontario on December 2, 2021. He’ll be on-call for the rest of the night until 8am the next day. ROBYN BELL/Concordia