Rural Practitioner

Dr. Lee Penner
Penner Veterinary Service
Manhattan, Kansas

Dr. Lee Penner

Dr. Lee Penner peforming an operation during an on-site farm visit. (Photo credit: Tom Mohr)

By Audrey Hambright

Dr. Lee Penner, a native of Hillsboro, Kansas, brought together his experience in teaching, the love of outdoors and ultimate love of human and animal health full circle to create Penner Veterinary Service in Manhattan, Kansas.

A graduate of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Penner followed graduation serving as a faculty member of Colorado State University on the Navajo reservation for two years before working in a mixed animal practice in Michigan. He returned to the Manhattan area to work for Dr. Cliff Noffsinger in Clay Center before starting his own practice. His experience in the field provided him with the skills he needed to get started, but the pillars of his practice were established much before then.

Penner spent three years in North Africa doing community development work and volunteer service prior to finishing his undergraduate degree at Kansas State University in 1965. A trip sponsored by the Mennonite Church, he spent his time working on water development, planting gardens as well as performing services in human health and animal husbandry. In fact, Penner spent one-week crash course with a doctor in Algeria where he learned how to treat illnesses such as tuberculosis, ear infections and strep throat. Penicillin was what was given to him to treat infections while he was out on the Sahara desert. The results from the treatment he was able to give, according to Penner, was pretty incredible and ultimately heightened his interest in medicine.

Yet instead of choosing human medicine, Penner chose to pursue a field in animal health. Not only because of his rural background and desire to work outside, but because he believes animals are wonderful mediums to communicate with people.

“It’s a natural way to get along with people,” Penner said.

Penner attributes most of his communication skills to his time spent in North Africa and overcoming the language barrier, which translates into working with clients.

“How often do people miscommunicate? I learned to understand and believe what I was saying, which is so important when communicating with farmers and ranchers,” he said.

Penner implements the skills his acquired in communications with that of his service principles.

Dr. Lee Penner

Dr. Penner (right) visits with a client during a farm visit. Photo credit: Tom Mohr

“My job is to provide the service of understanding what people really need and want,” he said. “I believe in “service, service, service” and people pick up on that attitude pretty quickly. After that you can really start to communicate.”

Penner Veterinary Service is unique in that it is an on-ranch mobile practice, strictly focusing on food animal health. Working out of his truck, Penner goes on-site when he receives a call not even pulling chute. This model along with growing his practice using word-of-mouth, has worked for Penner since he started the practice in 1985.

The industry has witnessed many changes since then, but Penner noted a few that came to front of his mind.

“Farmers and ranchers are more educated and more sophisticated in the way they run their operations,” he said. “Cow/calf operations are doing a better job with bull selection in terms of calving ease.”

Penner recognizes the pressure the industry has received in terms of antibiotics regulations and animal welfare, but he has also witnessed the opportunity it has created for improvement.

“More and more people are using the concepts developed by Grandin and Noffsinger,” he said. “By the time cattle get to the chute, their stress level is lower than what it used to be.”

Witnessing those changes, Penner feels the industry as a whole has accepted those practices and should remain flexible enough to adapt to future regulations.

Even through trends and changes, he still believes that service should be the number one priority as a practitioner.

“Don’t ever forget the concept of service and you can’t help but be successful,” he said.

Get the big picture…

View a full exhibit of Tom Mohr’s photographs at the Beach Museum in Manhattan, Kansas, between Feb. 7 and June 18, 2017. The exhibit will feature Dr. Penner in his role as rural practitioner.