Veteran Rancher and Veterinarian
Dr. Bob Sager relocated with his border collie, Tess, to Columbia, where he has joined the MU College of Veterinary Medicine as a food animal clinician who teaches veterinary students ruminant nutrition.
Within the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, Bob Sager has decorated the walls of his office with two reminders of Montana. This first is a photograph depicting a stark winter landscape. A jack fence stretches along the edge of a pasture, marking the boundary between Sager’s 300-acre ranch and a snow-covered plain that recedes into the foothills of the Crazy Mountains rising up in the distance. The second is the mounted head of Oscar, a bison bull that was culled from a herd in Yellowstone after testing positive for brucellosis.
Oscar is not only a memento of home and a conversation piece; he’s also a reminder of a mishap from the long career in veterinary medicine that Sager, DVM, MS, brings to his new position at the College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1983, while vaccinating cattle against brucellosis, Sager accidentally stuck a needle in his own hand infecting himself with the same organism that led to Oscar’s demise. The mishap nearly killed Sager too, but he has so far survived eight relapses of the disease that in humans stays persistent in the lymph nodes and blood cells.
“The attenuated vaccine mimics the disease in cattle,” Sager said. “Cattle naturally develop immune status, but the amount of the organism I gave myself was overwhelming.”
Despite a pronounced limp – a consequence of the illness – he dismisses the incident with a good-natured shrug as a hazard of spending a lifetime around cattle. Sager was born in south central Montana and raised on his parents’ cattle ranch. He received a bachelor of science in animal nutrition at Montana State University and his DVM at Colorado State University. He then returned to Montana where he spent four years working as an associate in another veterinarian’s practice before opening two of his own practices. He treated all species, but focused on beef cattle.
Sager spent more than three decades practicing veterinary medicine and with his wife raised seven children. But he said he always had a desire to return to school, citing a belief that when taking the Veterinarian’s Oath, practitioners commit to a lifelong process of self-improvement and education. He became board certified with the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in 2008, which further stimulated his interest in advancing his education. He sold his practice to two associates and in 2009 returned to Montana State. Last spring, he completed a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition with an emphasis on micromineral nutrition as it affects the immune system of beef cattle.
Sager recently left the wide-open spaces of his home state to accept a position at MU as a food animal clinician working in the field and with the ambulatory service. He also lectures in ruminant nutrition. He hopes to further his own education by pursuing a PhD in the future.
“I mentored 243 students in my career and I had been missing that. I was blessed with this opportunity to work and have a second career in an area where I have a real passion. I’m hopeful I can help the departments and be of value teaching the students here,” he said.
“Dr. Sager brings a wealth of food animal experience as a rancher and veterinarian, and his dual perspective will be beneficial to both our clients and students,” said John R. Dodam, chairman of the College’s Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. “Just as important, Dr. Sager has great enthusiasm for agriculture, veterinary medicine and for teaching. His certification by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and recent completion of a graduate degree in ruminant nutrition are evidence of his passion for veterinary medicine and education. We are happy that he chose to join us.”
Sager’s desire to continually improve himself isn’t limited to academics. He has competed for more than 30 years in national and international track and field individual throwing events, such as shot put, weight, discus and javelin, capturing two bronze World Masters Athletics medals. Not satisfied, in his mid-40s he stepped up his training and started throwing the hammer too so that he could also compete in the throws pentathlon. In addition to competing, he has served as a track and field official for 30 years and is certified to officiate in all throwing events, as well as weights and measures. Sager, who has officiated at two Olympic trials and numerous college competitions, has already provided assistance at MU’s home track and field meets. “I’d like to become involved in activities throughout the campus,” he said.
Sager jokes that when he came to Missouri he brought Oscar the bison, his books and a beloved border collie – leaving his wife behind to tend to their ranch and 100 head of cattle. However, he will return to Montana this spring, albeit briefly, to collect his master’s degree. He delayed graduation in order to go through the ceremony at the same time as his son, who will also graduate from Montana State with a bachelor of science degree in sports nutrition.
“Seven children and none of them wanted to be a veterinarian,” he said.
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