Dr. Albert Barth. Photo: Michael Raine.

Working with bulls lifeblood of Barth's career

Dr. Albert Barth has worked around cattle since he was a kid growing up on his family's farm near Radisson, Sask.

"It was the story of our lives in those days," recalls Barth. "We usually had 10 milking cows, and every kid got a couple of cows to milk. During the time, we also had 40 to 80 beef cows — most of them went into barns at night during the winter, so there were a lot of chores to do."

It was that farm background that eventually led Barth to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) and a distinguished career in veterinary medicine that has included seven years in practice and 35 years as a WCVM faculty member. The theriogenology specialist is officially retiring from the veterinary college's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences on June 30.

Barth was a second-year student in the University of Saskatchewan's College of Arts and Sciences when he decided that veterinary medicine might be the career for him.

"I was wondering what I should do," says Barth. "I knew my aptitude was to work with my hands, I was good in school, and I wanted to work outside. Then one day I saw these steel girders for the veterinary school coming out of the ground, and I decided to apply."

Following his graduation from the WCVM in 1971, Barth and his classmate Dr. Gavin Richardson founded the West Central Animal Clinic in Kindersley, Sask. Both Barth and Richardson enjoyed working at their busy mixed practice, but when a Saskatchewan government program offered a $10,000-per-year enticement to veterinarians who wanted to upgrade their education, it was an offer they couldn't refuse.

So Barth and his partner took turns attending the WCVM for eight-month stints until they both completed their Master of Veterinary Science (MVetSc) degrees.

Although he'd initially planned to return to practice, Barth joined the WCVM faculty in 1978 — the year that he received his advanced degree. Four years later, he became a diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists.

"Theriogenology was a fairly new field, and the main features applicable to practice were pregnancy testing and bull testing," Barth recalls. "The university ran a pretty strong continuing education program throughout the '80s, so every winter Dr. Bill Cates and I would head out on the road to run courses for producers in show rings and town halls."

Barth's involvement in continuing education carried on throughout his career as he communicated his understanding of theriogenology to producers and veterinary practitioners throughout the world.

For the past 20 years, he and his colleague Dr. Reuben Mapletoft have shared their expertise with post-graduate students at Argentina's Institute of Animal Reproduction of Cordoba — an institute that was co-founded by one of their former graduate students, Dr. Gabriel Bó.

"It's probably one of the best post-graduate training programs you can get there, and it's had a huge influence on the Argentinian cattle industry," says Barth. "We've also had the chance to meet very good potential graduate students, and quite a few of them have come to the WCVM as a result."

In conjunction with his commitment to continuing education, Barth has also been a prolific researcher. He's a member of the U of S Sustainable Beef Systems Group and has undertaken numerous research projects — the majority of them dedicated to understanding the factors affecting bull fertility.

Over the years, he's had almost 100 articles published in scientific journals. Barth has also written a book describing his research and has contributed to textbooks in North and South America.

Through his involvement with the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners (WCABP), Barth compiled the WCABP Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation Manual, an invaluable tool used by practitioners and veterinary students. He also assisted with the development of evaluation manuals for Argentina, England and Australia.

Barth's contributions to the WCABP led to his being the first veterinarian named the WCABP/Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinarian of the Year in 1995. He was also awarded a WCABP Honorary Life Membership.

While Barth enjoyed the research and the chance to work with clients, he also appreciated the teaching aspect of his job and the opportunity to work with students. He was twice awarded the Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award.

When considering his accomplishments, Barth is grateful for the information that was made available to him through his work with the bulls in the provincial and PFRA community pastures. He also greatly appreciated the assistance he received from veterinarians across Western Canada who sent him data from their interesting cases.

"I'd get about 50 cases a year, and I'd study them and try to explain the infertility," Barth explains. "I learned a tremendous amount, and it all went into my lectures and research protocols and into the manual. My bull work with the pastures and all the information I got from the veterinarians — that was the foundation of my research and teaching life here, the lifeblood of my career."

Now that he's entering a new stage in his life, Barth looks forward to spending time with his wife Alice on their acreage outside of Saskatoon. The couple are very proud of their three children, Michael, Lory and James. Michael, who has a doctorate in music, lives with his wife Lisa and their two children in Toronto. Lory, a geophysicist, lives in Calgary, and James, who is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, lives in Brisbane, Australia.

As Barth looks back on his years at the WCVM, he emphasizes that it's been the people he's worked with and the opportunity to keep learning that has made his time there so rewarding.

"The combination of teaching and research and service here at the university is unbeatable. You're just constantly learning new things. I think it's the joy of learning that is probably what has made this such a rewarding profession for me — it just really filled out my life."

Read a recent article based on Dr. Albert Barth's December 2012 presentation at the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) symposium in Sioux Falls, S.D.
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