Independent practice owners need expansion opportunities to stay viable & grow

October 19, 2023
Featured image for “Independent practice owners need expansion opportunities to stay viable & grow”

While Daniel Hendrickson, DVM (Purdue ‘14) entered the veterinary medicine segment after graduation from college and running a family swine operation for five years, he saw the opportunities veterinarians could have if they focused on making sure the family farm prospered and livestock opportunities were seized. Growing up in East Central Indiana, Dr. Hendrickson was immersed in the commercial- and show-hog industries. After graduation from veterinary school at Purdue in 2014, he returned home and started practicing with his uncle, Dale Hendrickson, DVM (Purdue ’68) a well-known swine veterinarian who started practicing 45 years earlier. In 2016, Dr. Hendrickson and his wife, Telynda, purchased Stoney Creek Veterinary Services in Farmland, IN, when the elder Dr. Hendrickson retired.

Dr. Hendrickson gradually built the practice around family commercial operations. But his love of show pigs allowed him to quickly become one of the preeminent experts on the growing segment of pig production. “We now travel to around 15 states conducting show pig practice,” says Dr. Hendrickson. “We do a lot of pig business in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, etc., not just Indiana. We’re not going to those far off places and doing surgeries, we’re going there in consulting roles working on their vaccination programs, health issues, nutrition, etc.”

According to Dr. Hendrickson, just like commercial pig businesses, show-pig customers have an entire host of issues they need to oversee, including biosecurity, diseases and genetics. “They travel all over the country showing pigs, so they are constantly exposing their pigs to disease and illness. Working with them to minimize these issues is what we focus on the most.”

Pig shows are an event where pigs are evaluated for their quality. They are evaluated on a multitude of things which include composition (muscle vs. fat), capaciousness, and skeletal integrity along with general appearance and conformation to their respective breed.

“Carcass leanness and muscle is important in the commercial swine industry because some producers can receive price premiums based on backfat and/or percent lean,” he explains. “This use to be a problem in the show industry but not anymore. Pigs today have more condition on them and are not as lean as they were at one time. Not sure where we want to go with this paragraph. Might be better to just leave completely out.”

He adds, “With few practitioners focusing on the show-pig industry, we are in high demand, and we work hard to stay up on the latest regional/national disease threats, genetics, nutritional advances, etc. We welcome the growth opportunity.”

Dr. Hendrickson notes, “My late uncle (Dr. Dale Hendrickson) was a visionary who forecasted a long time ago that the swine industry would consolidate and independent swine producers who didn’t team together as a group, would be left in the cold as far as growth opportunities, attracting the best veterinarians and having a buying presence that was economically beneficial to both the vet and his customers. He knew the only way to accomplish this economic and business advantage was to form a veterinary group made up of like-minded independent practitioners. He started  looking around and visiting with what he considered the best practitioners working with independent swine producers. He started Four Star Veterinary Service with four independent veterinarians, and it has since grown to 25 veterinarians. The practice I purchased from him – Stoney Creek Veterinary Services – was one of the first clinics to be part of Four Star Veterinary Service.”

Evidently the visionary gene runs in the family as Dr. Hendrickson saw the writing on the wall when he and his wife, Telynda, purchased Michigan Swine Veterinary Services, P.C., in Holland, MI, in 2021. Already part of the Four Star group, Dr. Hendrickson wanted to keep it that way. The opportunity to take over such a successful practice was too good to pass. He was already doing quite a bit of swine consulting and practice work with commercial farms in Michigan, so having the clinic nearby only made good business sense.

“My first step was to move Daniel Brown, DVM (U of IL ‘20) from Stoney Creek to the Michigan location” outlines Dr. Hendrickson. “Dr. Brown was already involved in working with our commercial clients and already traveling to Michigan, so it made him the best candidate to help grow this business. Dr. Brown, who during vet school, performed an internship with Carthage Veterinary Service and externships with The Maschhoffs, Pipestone Veterinary Services, Swine Vet Center and Triumph Foods gave him the focus in commercial production and population-based medicine. He was the perfect fit for the expanding Michigan practice.”

Aaron Slater, DVM (Purdue ‘15) and Dr. Hendrickson operate the Farmland, IN, practice where they focus on the commercial pig farms, show pigs and cattle operations all over the country. “Dr. Slater adds a much-needed dimension with his extensive experience in cattle, boer goats and sheep,” adds Dr. Hendrickson. “Dr. Slater spends much of his time on the show pig side of the business, which is growing yearly, however, he also oversees the cattle, sheep, goat livestock side of our business.”

The swine practitioner also says it’s critical that practitioners remain valuable business allies with their clients, not just herd health experts. “Clients rely on us to stay up to date on the latest health trends, etc., but they also look to us for business advice as well,” outlines Dr. Hendrickson. “They discuss new venture opportunities and expansion plans. We must stay up on all aspects of the farm as well and health and production medicine. In many operations, we’re viewed as part of the management team and owners respect our input and direction when called upon. Having those 25 veterinarians at Four Star that specialize in such a wide variety of disciplines and businesses, I can discuss new opportunities with this group and come away with an informed opinion to pass on to my customers. We’re not just practicing medicine, we’re practicing business development and success, nutrition, genetics, etc. It’s how we stay viable in a changing economy.”

While not interested right now in purchasing any more swine practices, Dr. Hendrickson and Telynda, says growth is still a high priority. “We as an industry must ask ourselves, what else can we do to survive if ASF or something unknown hits? Dr. Brown has an interest in poultry, so we’re moving into those type of clients. Dr. Slater has an interest in cattle and has diversified into mixed animals. Diversity is why we started a small animal practice five years ago (that Telynda manages). We’ll continue to focus on swine, but we’ll look to offer other services to gain business and remain viable businessmen.”

Despite their tremendous growth, their “pigs first” approach hasn’t wavered. “With our diverse client base, we’re also acutely aware that no two farms or production systems are the same,” concludes Dr. Hendrickson. “We therefore tailor health programs to suit the individual needs and goals of each client. While our primary focus is commercial swine production, our diverse team of veterinarians has expertise in cattle, poultry and other food-animal species. We also cater to the special needs of the rapidly growing show-pig market.”