In Benton County, a disproportionate number of newborn calves are christened “Chuck.” That’s because when Dr. Charles Estill is called out to attend a birth — usually in the dark hours before dawn — the mother is in distress, and the outcome is precarious. So a successful birth warrants proper recognition of the doctor’s skills.
A specialist in reproduction (the technical term is “theriogenology”), the OSU professor felt a kinship with animals as soon as he was old enough to explore the fields and woodlands around his suburban Pennsylvania home. The frogs, snakes and baby birds often tucked in little Chucky’s pockets earned him the nickname Nature Boy. “I never wanted to be a baseball player or a fireman or the president,” Estill says. “I never wanted to be anything but a vet. I didn’t have a Plan B.”
At Colorado State University, where he did his undergraduate work in zoology, his mentor and hero was Dr. Robert Pierson who, he says, was the “penultimate teacher.” Pierson let his young protégé ride along as he made his Saturday rounds to feedlots and dairies. “His truck,” Estill says, “was like a mobile classroom.”
Estill went on to earn his VMD at University of Pennsylania. (University of Pennsylvania awards the VMD, Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris, while all other North American colleges of veterinary medicine award the DVM, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.) Following an internship in food-animal medicine and surgery at the University of Georgia and 10 years in a private, mixed-animal practice in North Carolina, he received a Ph.D. at North Carolina State University and then joined the faculty at Mississippi State University. He came to OSU in 2002, where he teaches theriogenology, large-animal medicine, and animal handling and care, in addition to Rural Veterinary Practice I. He also oversees cattle reproductive medicine and nutrition for the university’s research herds, and conducts studies geared toward improving the health and fertility of livestock.
In the 30 years since earning the title of “doctor,” Estill has delivered hundreds of calves, most under emergency conditions. At large dairies, where three or four newborns come along every day, farmers are adept at routine deliveries. “I don’t get called,” he says, “unless there’s a problem.”