Dr. Sheila McGuirk a widely known and respected dairy veterinarian, is being honored this year as World Dairy Expo's Industry Person of the Year.
Through a long, productive career, she has made outstanding contributions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in all areas of teaching, outreach, service and research. The prime beneficiary of her skills and talents has been the dairy industry, which is why she was singled out this year.
As a kid growing up in Maryland, McGuirk says she loved being part of a dairy farm. Her family moved there so her dad could join a dairy partnership.
"We milked registered Jerseys, a number of which had been imported from the Isle of Jersey," she told Wisconsin State Farmer.
The dairy farm operated its own on-farm milk-processing plant, loading the bottled Jersey milk on trucks that were delivered to homes.
Their farm, which milked 70-77 Jersey cows, was a great place to grow up for McGuirk, who remembers doing lots of calf chores and just having a real affinity for being around the animals.
She was the sixth of 15 children and showed Jersey cattle until she was in high school. A barn fire at their farm, which destroyed the dairy operation, changed the face of that business when she was in grammar school, she recalled.
Her family decided to simplify the farm rather than rebuild what they had lost, and opted for raising beef.
"As a kid I was drawn to the cow side and that interest started with calves," she said, adding that many of her siblings didn't share that enthusiasm.
She took a special interest in the cattle and was "fostered well by people in the Jersey business." As a kid she did 4-H cattle judging and won her state's contest.
She went to college at Cornell, hoping that being an undergraduate there would help her get into that school's veterinary college. She majored in biology and admits she didn't have a "stellar grade point average," as she was also active in sports.
After finishing her undergraduate degree she decided she would still try to get into vet school. "Dad said if you don't try you'll always regret it."
There was no veterinary college in her home state of Maryland, but there was a Maryland "quota" at the University of Georgia, where she could pay in-state tuition. She was accepted and it was a "whole new beginning," she said.
She learned from "wonderful faculty" and from a mentoring veterinary practitioner back home in Maryland. She worked for that practice during two years of her undergraduate career and then all through vet school. It had been her intention to go back home and work for that practice when she finished vet school.
Then one of her teachers encouraged her to try an internship. "I talked it over with the practitioner I'd been working with and went for it."
McGuirk found that she loved teaching and loved being in the setting at a veterinary hospital. It gave her the chance to see patients but also teach others who worked with animals.
"I never left the academic setting."
She worked in Ontario, which was attractive to her with its annual Royal Winter Fair, and then had a residency at Ohio State University where she earned additional degrees - a masters and a PhD.
Then her mentoring professor became the first department chair at the new University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and she moved to Madison.
Since her mentor was especially interested in things like fluid balance in calves and cows, she also took up that torch. Her specialty and training are in internal medicine and she put it to good use at the vet school.
McGuirk said she has loved working with calves and cows at the college and then going back to the farms to work with farmers on production and finding solutions to problems.
A de facto calf specialist at the UW-Madison, McGuirk said so much has changed in calf care during her tenure. At the start, individual housing for calves was just about the only way people raised calves.
Through the years the industry has added group housing and various mixes of indoor and outdoor housing, and now even automatic calf feeding, and there have been changes in people's thinking about calf nutrition as well.
McGuirk was singled out by Expo for this honor "as one of the elite internal medicine specialists focused on dairy cattle in the world today."
Her reaction to the award was "speechless," she said.
"Mark Clark (World Dairy Expo's general manager) called and asked what I was doing on Oct. 3rd, and I told him I'd be at Expo. He said "Well, how about going to a banquet that night?"
"I could say nothing; I was totally speechless," she recalls. "It is absolutely exciting and I'm so humbled to get this honor."
According to Clark, one of McGuirk's accomplishments has been the development of her special skills in the area of calf care and management. "She is one of the most respected vets in neonatal calf health in North America."
"She is "very skilled at using understandable terms and has the unique ability of making complex concepts easy to understand. Her love of cows and the people who care for them is evident in her daily actions, treating them with grace and respect," says Clark.
In addition to her clinical and outreach skills, McGuirk was singled out for this honor for enthusiastically volunteering her time to World Dairy Expo, where she has worked with veterinarians from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to improve biosecurity.
She created a one-credit class for her veterinarian students to assist with health paper check-in processes at the huge cattle exhibition, thereby ensuring a potential future pool of show veterinarians with practical on-site experience
McGuirk also provided valuable guidance in developing techniques that help to ensure the high show cattle ethical standards at World Dairy Expo.
In 1985, McGuirk was one of the founding faculty members at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.
She earned the American Association of Bovine Practitioners Award of Excellence, was the first female recipient of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association's "Veterinarian of the Year" award and was honored by her peer faculty as recipient of the Renk Distinguished Profession award.
She has written hundreds of columns in Hoard's Dairyman, spoken at hundreds of dairy and veterinary meetings around the world, seen thousands of cows as patients at the UW-Madison and has worked at Expo every year.
McGuirk is married to Dr. Paul Manley.