Dr. Bill Anderson stands next to a 3-year-old steer named “Cactus Jack” outside of the cattle barns at the Fort Worth Stock Show grounds. (Marcheta Fornoff | Fort Worth Report) 

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Dr. Bill Anderson, veterinarian at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about caring for everything from bunnies to bulls over the stock show’s 23-day run.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

Anderson: I’m Bill Anderson and I’m a veterinarian for the Fort Worth Stock Show. 

Fornoff: That’s the official title? Just ‘veterinarian’ for the stock show? 

Anderson: Yes.

Fornoff: How many veterinarians are on staff here? 

Anderson: I am. 

Fornoff: Just you? OK. How long have you been doing this? 

Anderson: Since 1979. 

Fornoff: Did you grow up in Fort Worth or around here?

Anderson: Yes.

Fornoff: And where’d you go to vet school? 

Anderson: I actually went to vet school at the University of Missouri. I did undergraduate and graduate work at (Texas) A&M.

Fornoff: What inspired you to be the stock show veterinarian?

Anderson: My dad was a veterinarian and I grew up around it. I had a brother that had no interest at all, but I was just the opposite.

Fornoff: Did your dad work with large farm animals? 

Anderson: Everything. 

Fornoff: Describe the breadth of animals that you work with here at the stock show. 

Anderson: Well, here at the stock show, it’s anything from rabbits to bucking bulls, chickens, beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, sheep and goats. 

Fornoff: What are you doing, day to day?  

Anderson: I make the rounds to make sure things are orderly around the barns. During the day, it’s just if somebody has a problem, an animal that’s ill or injured, I’ll examine it and see what we need to do. 

Fornoff: What’s an example of an issue you’ve encountered and how you addressed it?

Anderson: Well this morning, I had a Braford bull calf that was running a fever and breathing heavily. He’s young and he’s probably coming down with a respiratory infection. They had already given him some antibiotics, so I suggested some anti-inflammatories for him. They were going to get him out in the sunshine to get him out of the barn since today is a nice day. 

Fornoff: And part of your job is to make sure that infection doesn’t spread in the barns? 

Anderson: Well, sure. The unfortunate thing is we try to do that when the animals come in. But if they are coming down with something, you can’t always tell. So then sometimes (that’s) when things get started in the closed barns. The good thing is most of our show animals are here for three to four days, and then they go home. Years ago, when we had a 10-day show and they were here, it could be more difficult. Shorter times, less exposure. 

Fornoff: I imagine you’ve kind of seen the gamut from animals giving birth to broken bones, administering vaccines. 

Anderson: Well, the vaccinations wouldn’t be here, but off the grounds that’s part of our programs we put together for people. But here on the grounds, yeah, we have births from time to time and we have injuries. Sometimes they’re as traumatic as a fractured bone, but a lot of times they’re just small cuts and bruises and that type of thing. Those are usually incurred in the trailer coming (here), so that’s probably the major thing. And then, of course, just like people, you have respiratory and GI problems. The animals (are) drinking different water, (in a) different environment. Maybe they haven’t been taken to a big show and they’re here, so it can cause some GI upsets. And respiratory (issues happen when) the weather changes. 

Fornoff: Well, you said you arethe” veterinarian for the stock show, so how many animals does that make you responsible for?

Anderson: Well, the best way to put it is we have over 22,000 entries this year. At any one time, I can’t tell you specifically how many are on the ground. But you know, you divide that basically by three weeks. So that would probably give you a pretty good idea of how many may be here any given day. Thank goodness they are high quality and top of the line. We just really don’t have that many problems as people might think. But when you have 7,000-8,000 animals on the grounds at one time, there’s going to be a certain number of problems (with) illnesses or injuries or that type of thing. 

Fornoff: Just like when you get a bunch of people together.

Anderson: Exactly. 

Fornoff: Do you have a favorite breed or type of animal you prefer to treat?

Anderson: No, I really don’t. You know, I enjoy working with all types of animals and owners, too. You know? That has a lot to do with it. So I don’t have a favorite, so to speak. I guess at one time, I probably did more horses than anything else. But then over the years, it just kind of spread out. So I do cattle, and in regular practice, I do small animals also.

Fornoff: How do you feel about working with the bulls for the rodeo? 

Anderson: I don’t have a problem walking around with the bulls or the bucking horses. You know, there’s always people there that know the animals real well. You kind of read how they’re moving around them and what we’re doing with them. 

Fornoff: Do you have a strategy for keeping animals calm when they’re in an unusual environment, with a lot of people? 

Anderson: There’s really not a strategy for keeping them calm. I mean, some of them will become upset because of the crowds and all. And you try to get those animals outside in the tie outs, if they’re cattle. And if they’re horses try to get them to exercise more so they’re not in the stalls so much. But that’s about all we can do for them, primarily. They have to get used to the crowds if they’re going to come to the shows, so that’s part of growing up. 

Fornoff: After doing this for a few decades, you rack up quite a few stories. Do you have a favorite? 

Anderson: There’s a lot of good stories. Those things you can’t really can’t just pull them off and recite them at a moment’s notice, but when you get to thinking about it? You think about this and that, but you’re right, so many different things over the years have happened. Like I said, the majority of them are all good. Every once in a while, you’ve got some that didn’t turn out good, but I really don’t remember bad things. (It) makes life better.

Fornoff: That is very convenient. Since you grew up around Fort Worth, do you have memories of coming to the stock shows as a kid? 

Anderson: Oh, yeah. My brother and I both showed calves when we were growing up. We were here at a really young age. I can’t remember exactly my first time here. But my daughter was born in November, and I had her here in January and February of that next year. So you know, I was probably the same way (as a kid). I just don’t remember. 

Fornoff: How does it feel to walk around the barns and see so many kids taking care of their cattle, poultry and…

Anderson: Oh, grateful. Yeah, with all the things going on in this world when you can be around this kind of environment, with the young people doing the work to care for their animals. It’s encouraging. It really is. 

Fornoff: Do you have a favorite part of working with animals? 

Anderson: Well, when I’m working with them, they’re either sick or injured, so you know you have to feel sorry for them. It’s probably not a favorite thing to do by any means, but just hoping that you’re doing things that will relieve whatever they’re going through, whether it’s an injury or an illness or whatever. Their recovery, that’s what you get your enjoyment from (is) seeing a recovery.

Fornoff: What’s harder to deal with the bucking horses or the people? 

Anderson: (chuckles) The bucking horses aren’t a problem because, like I said, most of them are going to react about like a stick of dynamite. So, you know how to approach them and how to handle them. Then there are people there that handle them all the time, so you get help that way. (But) people can be different. A lot of them react strangely when their animals are sick or injured, and you know, it’s not anybody’s fault. Sometimes they can probably overreact, so that’s not a pleasant thing, but a lot of people are very grateful. And so you just shoot for the best and hope for those days when everybody’s grateful. 

Fornoff:  People spend a lot of time and effort and money getting the animals here so I’m sure

Anderson: Right. And so (it’s a) big disappointment if the animal is injured or sick. I understand that, but they need to understand that those things can happen and there will be another day. 

Fornoff: Was last year, the first year you had to miss the stock show since working as a vet here?

Anderson: Right, exactly.

Fornoff: What’s it like being back?

Anderson: We have so many friends here, people that show. And the only time you see a lot of these people is at this show. You have seen them for so many years, it’s like you’re good friends, but the only time you see them is at the show. I’m finding out a lot of people were very sick and maybe some of them passed away, or maybe some of them were too weak to come. And that’s, you know, disconcerting. But then you see a lot of people and their smiling faces and they’re glad to be back, so that’s what makes it a good day. 

Fornoff: Just one last question: Do you mind sharing how old you are?

Anderson: How old do you think I am?

Fornoff: I have no idea. 

Anderson: Well, I said I’d been doing the show for 43 years, so. 

Fornoff: 65?

Anderson: Well, that’s sweet. No, I’m 70.

Fornoff: You don’t look like a day over 65.

Anderson: (Laughs) Thank you.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...

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