An Alberta veterinarian uses video and a website to share with the public the human side of livestock health care
The T-shirt with a silhouette of a man with his arm thrust into a cow’s nether region was a joke, at first.
Now it’s an in-demand item for fans of Palpation Nation, the video blog created and populated by the exploits of Dr. Cody Creelman, also known as The Cow Vet.
Since his first “vlog” was posted to YouTube in 2015, Creelman’s documentation of the life and times of a bovine veterinarian — 310 episodes — have generated more than 10 million views and notoriety that has generated business for Airdrie, Alta.-based Veterinary Agri-Health Service and Mosaic Veterinary Partners. Creelman is involved in both businesses.
On any given day, Creelman finds himself preg checking heifers, conducting a caesarian section on a cow, semen testing bulls or swinging an axe while doing a post-mortem.
All that is part of usual bovine veterinary practice. What’s unusual is Creelman’s ability to shoot video, edit it, post it and respond to the feedback it generates.
Often accompanied by veterinary students in his vlogs, Creelman showed one episode where he and a student repaired a bilateral cleft lip in a calf. The clip “went ballistic,” he said.
“The response has been phenomenal. People are amazed at the level of work and dedication that beef cattle producers put into their operations. They can’t believe that,” Creelman told those gathered for the annual Tiffin Conference in Lethbridge Jan. 17.
His social media presence began as a way to increase business. Mission accomplished. Pre-breeding palpation used to be rare for his practice, and Palpation Nation has changed that.
But over time Creelman said it also generated clients’ trust in his services and abilities.
Initially some clients were reluctant to have their operations or their more difficult cattle health challenges shown in videos. Some remain so. And although Creelman said he is diligent about getting permission to show his work, most clients are willing, even eager, to be part of his projects.
Wider social media exposure has also thrust him into the role of veterinary and beef industry spokesperson, said Creelman.
As an example, he was asked to speak at an MIT conference earlier this year as the lone speaker about the cattle business.
“Because of these videos, I got a seat at the table. I get to drive the boat. I get to share what we’re doing. I get to show how we can help them and they can help us, all because I had a crazy dream of putting together a few blogs to market my practice so I could palpate a few extra cows to pay the bills.”
The nature of veterinary work is such that some of the videos show blood, pus, injury and eviscerated organs — some of it likely beyond the comfort level of certain viewers.
That doesn’t worry Creelman, nor does he shy away from any criticism that his vlogs generate. On the contrary, he said he welcomes the chance to engage with people and explain the work and the industry.
He has also become a hero to a certain segment of academia.
“One thing that I never expected from putting these videos together, and never strived for, was the dozens and dozens of messages I get from veterinary students every single week about how these videos are the only thing keeping them going,” Creelman said.
“In the throes of their depression and the hard work and the darkness that is veterinary school, that there’s a beacon of light out there, that there’s actually a veterinarian out there who enjoys their job, who can smile and laugh and isn’t bitter and depressed by all the heartache and pain that we see.”
The popularity of Palpation Nation has caught the attention of other media. Creelman said he is approached by production companies at least twice a month as they seek to leverage what he does.
If he ever goes that route, Creelman said he would insist on complete control over the product so his story can be told in his clients’ best interests. So far no company has been willing to strike that deal.
He encouraged cattle producers in his audience to embrace social media for promotion.
“For a lot of you, brand matters. Connection matters. You’re selling services. You’re selling genetics. You’re selling your story. And that’s where the parallels can be created between what I do,” he said.
“This hyper-local marketing of my veterinary services parallels with your hyper-local marketing of your genetics, of your product.”
However, he cautioned that it isn’t an easy process. Each of his vlogs takes hours to edit, and that’s after he has used his phone, and sometimes his drone, to shoot his activities. Then there’s music selection and managing his own self-analysis.
“Most people hate the sound of their own voice,” he said.
“I think that I sound like a donkey with hydrocephalus.”
But he persists. Creelman said he thinks it’s important to show the beef cattle industry in a more transparent way. It doesn’t hurt, either, to show the valuable work that veterinarians do.
“There’s a huge negative culture around veterinary medicine right now, a huge culture of complaint,” he said.
“People are absolutely shocked to see a veterinarian that can smile, that can laugh, that can joke around with students and share that with the world. So it’s more than just marketing. I never expected that.”