Bain family of Frederick provides veterinary services for 110 years

Self-taught older generation passed on desire to care for animals

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

A well-worn book called 'The Illustrated Stock Doctor and Livestock Encyclopedia' reminds Jim Bain of the legacy passed on to him.

As the calendar turned to January, the Bains have served area farmers and ranchers for 110 years. His grandfather, Henry (Hank) Bain, and his dad, Les Bain, referred to the book as self-taught veterinarians.

Henry Bain learned the art of veterinary sciences when living in McPherson County. He studied and learned to treat sick animals through experience and by using common sense. He began doing work for others in 1910. When puzzled, he turned to the book Jim still has that was printed in England in 1889. The focus was on horses, with little information on cattle or hogs.

The title page of the book used by Bain family veterinarians. Courtesy photo

In 1933-34, Henry treated sleeping sickness in horses by bleeding them to lower their body temperature. During the days of hog cholera, he’d vaccinate animals when he went on calls. He moved to Frederick with his wife, Cecile, and their family in 1941.

In 1951, Hank’s son, Les, took over the business and Hank continued working with animals as the manager of the Frederick Shipping Association.

After serving in World War II, Les went to Iowa State College, enrolling in classes to prepare him for Veterinary Medicine. Illness forced him to discontinue his education. He returned home and provided vet services within a 50-mile radius of Frederick. Les told people what he would do if the animals were his. He could give them the medicine and they could treat the animals or he could do it. His specialty was diagnosis, and he was rarely wrong.

Some of the tools used by Hank and Les Bain. Included are Pig pullers, tools for castration, extended handle pliers for pulling horse's teeth and a device to hold the horse's mouth open when working on teeth. Courtesy photo

Jim said his dad was probably one of the last practicing non-licensed veterinarians in South Dakota when he retired and turned the business over to Jim in 1974.

“What my grandpa and dad taught me best was a work ethic," he said. "They’d been vets and they wanted me to be the next Bain vet. And I wanted to be a vet.”

Jim traveled with his grandpa and dad to calls in the 1960s, so he met most of the area families. In the early days, horses were the mainstays of the farm and most of the reasons for vet calls. Farmers depended on horses to plow the fields, plant the crops and provide transportation. People had a few cows, pigs or chickens, but every operation needed a horse. And if the horse got sick, work stopped.

Jim went to South Dakota State University where he earned a chemistry degree. He graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Missouri. While there, he met his wife, Claudia, and they married in 1975. Norm Brooks, who Jim met at Missouri, interned for Jim in 1975 and then joined Jim in the practice at the Frederick Veterinary Clinic.

Jim Bain served as president of the South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association and was named Veterinarian of the Year in 2011. Courtesy photo

Of the places Jim visits, there are 17 that have the fifth generation on the place and 40 that are fourth-generation. All have had a Bain vet care for their animals with respect. The area covers northern Brown County and McPherson County in South Dakota and Dickey County in North Dakota.

Numbers in Jim’s books show from his 46 years, he’s preg-checked 2 million cows, semen tested 50,000 bulls, performed 3,000 C-sections, 4,000 dog/cat spays, 1,000 horse castrations and 5,000 cow prolapses.

When Jim started his practice, he got called in to a difficult breech birth. While watching the struggle, the older farmer said, “I wish your dad were here.”

“I wish he were, too,” Jim told him. The calf was eventually born and was OK.

Jim's mom and dad, Marie and Les Bain. Courtesy photo
Jim's grandfather Hank Bain. Courtesy photo

The size and number of animals has changed since he first started working cattle in 1974. An average cow was around 1,000 lbs. With changes in genetics and feeding, those animals now are closer to 1,700 lbs.

“I’ve been beaten up by cows and knocked down, but never sick," Jim said of his 46-year practice. "I’ve never gotten mad at cattle; there is no need as they can’t hear you. It’s a good business, I can’t complain.

“I checked in cattle for 45 years at the Brown County Fair so I’ve gotten to know a lot of families," he continued. "The cattle producers in this area take very good care of their animals. Those who didn’t were pushed off the farms by bankruptcies in the 1980s.”

When Jim started practicing, there were 80,000 cow/calf pairs in the area. That number has gone down as people got out of cattle and downsized. A ton of guys used to have 30 or 40 cows. Now they might have 300. And a few have thousands.

The hands that have touched the lives of so many animals now suffer with the cold.

“In the last few years, the cold really bothers me," Jim said. "When it gets below 30 degrees, I can’t keep my hands warm. When you are trying to preg-check a cow, you have to feel when you put your hands inside her. Even in those nice indoor facilities, the doors open and close and it’s cold in there.”

When he was out one day, Jim was doing a C-section with the client and his 10-year-old son watching. The guy said, “When are you going to retire?"

“Well, I don’t know," Jim replied. "I’ve only been practicing for 45 years.”

“Then you should get good at it someday," was the man's reply.

How long will Jim continue as a vet?

“As long as my wife lets me,” he said with a chuckle. “My clients are really good to work with. And someday, maybe I’ll get good at what I do.”

Some of the tools used by Hank and Les Bain. Included are Pig pullers, tools for castration, extended handle pliers for pulling horse's teeth and a device to hold the horse's mouth open when working on teeth. Courtesy photo