While other little girls were focused on dolls and dresses, Amanda Weakley was focused on animals.

What was once a childhood interest is now a vocation as Dr. Weakley has recently joined Virginia Herd Health Management as a large animal veterinarian. Even before her fifth birthday, Weakley, who was born and raised on a farm in Brightwood, had decided she wanted to be a veterinarian. A trip to the vet with her dog Smooch had influenced that, along with an inherent love of animals. By the age of 10, Weakley was heavily involved in 4-H, filling her time with the Livestock Club and showing hogs, before later showing steers. The daughter of Jeff and Jenny Weakley, she stayed active in 4-H in high school, serving on the cattle working, livestock judging and stockman’s teams. She also added Future Farmers of America to her list of activities, competing in state and national speaking competitions as well as serving as the Virginia Central Area Vice President. It was through these things that her passion switched from small animals to large ones and her love of Virginia Tech was born.

“Through 4-H, we went to the Block and Bridle competition which is held at Virginia Tech,” she said. “I liked the campus and became a Hokie.”

Weakley enrolled in animal and poultry sciences and dairy sciences at the Blacksburg university, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both majors along with a minor in agriculture and applied economics. She was also active in Block and Bridle, Animal Science Ambassadors, and Sigma Alpha.

Following graduation, Weakley was accepted into four veterinary schools, including the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VA-MD Vet Med) at Virginia Tech.

“It was a hard decision because I really wanted to go to Kansas,” she said. “However, Blacksburg is only three hours from home and I have an 8-year-old sister [so I wanted to be close by].”

At VA-MD Vet Med, Weakley was active in the Food Animal Practitioner’s Club, serving as secretary and president, and Alpha Psi. She founded the Theriogenology Club focusing on animal reproductive biology and researched Fescue Toxicosis in cattle as a summer project. She was also an active member of the Christian Veterinary Fellowship participating in mission trips in Honduras and Haiti.

“In Haiti, we worked for the CDC, developing a rabies surveillance plan,” she said. “In Honduras, we performed vaccinations and deworming.”

In November, Weakley took her eight-hour veterinarian licensing exam, which she received the positive results of in March before graduating in May.

And though she could have likely set up shop anywhere, Weakley decided to come home to Madison.

“There are a lot of farms here, but not as many as there are out west, plus the farmers here are very self-sufficient,” she said. “I have a lot of family ties here though and I love the community. I’m ready to give back.”

Since returning to Madison, Weakley has joined Young Farmers which awarded her scholarships for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. Plus, she’s attended a few fair board meetings and purchased a hog during the 4-H livestock auction at the fair.

“I remember others supporting me so I think it’s important to continue that,” she said. “I paid for all four years of my undergraduate program through the sale of my 4-H animals. I had a checkbook at 10 and invested the money in a CD to pay for college.”

She’s also purchasing a home in Brightwood, not far from her family’s home.

“Far enough so that it’s mine, but close enough that my dad can bring the lawnmower,” she laughed.

As for joining Virginia Herd, Weakley said she’s known Dr. Patrick Comyn, DVM, for years and it just made sense. He performed a c-section on a cow at her family’s farm when she was younger and also helped her with a 4-H project along with writing health papers for her animals. She also interned with him.

“He’s a great mentor and super-smart,” she said. “Having ridden with him [since high school], I know him as well as his daughter [knows him]. It’s nice to have that in an employer.”

Virginia Herd Office Manager Terri Tatum said adding Weakley to the business has worked out well.

“She [approached us about it] and we already knew she was a hard worker and knew her work ethic,” Tatum said. “She started here June 2 and has been hard at it.”

Before, the business was a sole practitioner, so adding a second veterinarian has allowed for some expansion. In addition to cattle, Virginia Herd now offers services for goats, sheeps and pigs, which Weakley said is more her project, although she still works with cattle.

Along with the usual sick animal call, Weakley’s duties can vary, including the artificial insemination of pigs and goats, important for farmers wishing to bring in better genetics without having to purchase male goats, bucks, which can be temperamental. She also performs herd checks, which are especially important for dairy cows, since a dairy cow must be bred and produce calves to maintain milk production and also beef cattle, to make decisions based on when they’ll calve. She said fly control has been a big one this summer with the heat and she is encouraging farmers to keep data which can be used for analysis of animal growth, calf loss and more.

“So far, so good,” she said about officially stepping out into the world as a large animal veterinarian. “There’s a steep learning curve out of school. In college, you’ll be in the field with the professor and four other vet students. Now, it’s you, the animal and the owner. There’s a lot to remember and keep up with but I can talk with other [veterinarians] and bounce ideas off Dr. Comyn. They say you learn more in your first year out of school than you did in all four years of schooling.”

Weakley said it helps that she’s in a place she knows.

“I know some of the clients, but there are some new faces,” she said. “I know where I’m going, which helps.”

Weakley said Virginia Herd has expanded its area of service to include parts towards Albermarle, in addition to Madison, Fauquier, Orange, Greene, Culpeper and some areas in Louisa.

“It’s a big territory so you have to be willing to drive as a large animal veterinarian,” she said.
Weakley estimates that they’re about five to eight large animal vets in Central Virginia with some overlap in coverage.

“We try to work together,” she said.

This article was originally published in the Madison Eagle on Aug. 25, 2014.