When Ashley Silvey married her husband, John, a fourth-generation farmer, she became a part of his family’s diversified farming operation. Shortly before their wedding, they purchased several cows that were pregnant. Unfortunately, the cows experienced numerous birthing difficulties, which resulted in several cow and calf deaths.
“It was financially devastating,” Silvey recalled.
Silvey, a second-year veterinary student, drew upon that personal experience when discussing her goals for a career as a large animal veterinarian.
“There is a lot we can offer to farmers and ranchers,” she said. “I know I won’t have all of the answers, but by carefully listening to what clients are saying, and pulling up the history of their herd, we can come up with creative ideas to help develop sustainable practices with the goal of raising healthy animals using minimal resources.”
Silvey’s passion for farming and helping fellow producers and the animals they are raising is evident when she speaks. And when she writes.
“Upon completion of veterinary school, my long-term goals will be to create a safe environment for assisting farmers and ranchers with the healthcare of their livestock, protect the health and safety of consumers, while cultivating sustainable agricultural practices,” she explained in her essay for the Glenn J. and Mary K. James Veterinary College Scholarship.
She recently learned that she was chosen as the first recipient of the scholarship, which will fully fund all four years of her veterinary education. Glenn and Mary James provided for the scholarship in their estate plan. Married for 65 years, the Jameses worked together to run and maintain their Sarcoxie, Missouri, family farm. They directed that the scholarships help veterinary students who wish to study with an emphasis of providing care to large and farm animals.
“This is a life-changing blessing,” Silvey said. “It’s going to change everything for my family.”
While the scholarship changed her family’s financial situation, it didn’t alter Silvey’s goals. “I still plan to work for my mentor, Dr. (Austin) Story, and I still plan to serve our community as a large animal veterinarian.” Story is a 1983 CVM alumnus.
Silvey spent most of her childhood in Colorado, where her extended family operated a ranch in Fort Collins. “I grew up riding. It was always something I enjoyed doing. My family also had cattle, and that is where my love for animals began,” she said.
When she was 11, her family relocated to Hamilton. She participated in FFA throughout high school, holding offices as the chapter treasurer in 2006-2007 and vice president from 2007-2008. She graduated from Penney High School in 2008 and married her husband that same year.
Although she spent time during her high school junior and senior years shadowing Story, circumstances led her to pursue a career in nursing. She graduated from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph in 2013 as a registered nurse.
Her first job was at Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe, Missouri, as a medical-surgical RN. After almost two years there, she accepted a position with the Clinton County Health Department in Plattsburg. She was with the health department for almost three years, and she and her husband were expecting their second child, when she realized, “Yes, I really want to go back to school and pursue veterinary medicine.”
She requested permission to work part time so that she could resume job shadowing a veterinarian. “My boss was wonderful,” she recalled. “He was shocked, but very supportive.”
She continued part time work for eight months while accruing job-shadowing experience before returning to Missouri Western to complete prerequisite courses for the CVM’s veterinary curriculum. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2019. During that time, she sold her new truck and they paid off the loan on her car to help minimize expenses while she attended veterinary school.
“It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment plan,” she said.
The CVM accepted Silvey and she joined the Class of 2023. She rents an apartment in Columbia and returns to the family farm in Hamilton as many weekends possible. When her academic schedule prevents her from going home, her husband or mother-in-law brings sons Brodie, 5, and Briggs, 3, to Columbia.
In her essay she stated, “Providing practical solutions that fall within a client’s financial means will greatly influence a client’s ability to make strategic, well-informed management decisions regarding their operation. Most importantly, first-hand experience regarding a producer’s livelihood struggles, and successes, will aid our client-doctor relationship when difficult decisions need to be made, in order to maintain fiscal responsibility and animal welfare during times of hardship and uncertainty.”
Silvey said her priorities were inspired in part after hearing Temple Grandin speak. Grandin is a professor, author and speaker on autism and animal behavior, and an advocate for the humane treatment of livestock.
Silvey said after she enters practice with Story, he intends to build a large central clinic, as addressed in her scholarship essay.
“Expanding our veterinary services will involve a safe working facility incorporating Temple Grandin philosophies, utilizing up-to-date technology and equipment (i.e. recently purchased hydraulic chute/table) that will efficiently meet the demands for large animal care. This facility will ensure the optimal standards for disease prevention and management, while also supporting producers by minimizing their costs in the long-term. By establishing a haul in facility, it is expected to decrease the risk of injuries, often associated with utilizing inadequate, and sometimes hazardous facilities on clientele farms.”
Grandin, who has autism, also encouraged Silvey to try to better understand people whose minds and abilities work differently.
“Temple said a lot of things that made me stop and think about how to present myself to clients, so that they feel free to call me, not just when they have a problem, but when they want to discuss genetics of their herd or ways to enhance their operation. Not every operation is one size fits all, but I can say to them, ‘this is what we’re doing, and these are the results we’re seeing’,” she said.