Dr. Tim Henshaw worked his final day on the farm on New Year’s Eve, but the EastGen veterinarian will continue contributing to the dairy sector during semi-retirement.
The veterinarian for the cattle genetics company says he has examined more than 1.1 million animals and met “a lot of new friends… and a few enemies” in his 41-year career.
Why it matters: Henshaw has not been shy about speaking out in creative ways about issues that affect farmers.
Henshaw is known for more than his expertise in dairy cow reproduction. He’s known for a creative social media presence that bloomed when he was part of a 4-H biosecurity education video that led to such parodies as: Signs of Heat Rap, Breed Her Maybe and Taking Care of Fresh Cows.
“I have a memorandum of understanding (that EastGen) may still call on me to help with farm events, trade shows and the 4-H program for the next 16 months,” the veterinarian known to many as “Dr. Tim” told Farmtario.
This timeline will give him 40 years of service at what was originally Guelph-based United Breeders, then Gencor, then eventually EastGen — serving, he said, “the farmers of Ontario through the artificial insemination industry.”
EastGen General Manager Brian O’Connor describes Henshaw as “so creative and an exceptional teacher” — both in training the company’s technicians and in working with the public at youth events and farm shows.
“At the very root of it, he is highly skilled as a professional,” said O’Connor, who has worked with Dr. Tim since 1996. “But just as importantly, he has a passion for people, and that’s what sets him apart from other highly-skilled professionals in his field.”
An Ontario Veterinary College graduate, Henshaw first worked in a private practice, before joining United Breeders in a field service/member support role in 1982. In time, he took on leadership of the company’s major sponsorship of 4-H and its participation in trade shows, as well as expanding his own knowledge so he could train breeding technicians on such topics as embryo implants.
“In 1993, I was sent to Latvia for two weeks by the International Livestock Management School to teach bovine reproduction skills.” Latvian vets had already spent six weeks in Canada, with Henshaw as one of their instructors.
“They were using technology from the 1950s,” he recalled, and had been told by the Soviet bureaucrats from whom they had only been freed just two years previously that ‘they were world leaders.’”
Back in Ontario, however, Henshaw’s public profile stretches beyond bovine circles, thanks in large part to a combination of to-the-point advocacy and what can only be described as “edutainment.”
“I sort of wandered into social media by accident,” he recalled of an online profile that solidified his Dr. Tim persona beyond EastGen’s member farms.
The 4-H biosecurity video put him in touch with Bruce Sargent of Farm Boy Productions, with whom Henshaw has now collaborated on about a dozen videos. Several have been parodies of popular songs, with lyrics adapted to provide information about cattle breeding, and young farmers corralled into such roles as line dancing in cow costumes.
“Most people told me not to quit the day job,” Henshaw said of his musical exploits, adding with a note of contrition that “I get a lot of my most creative ideas when I am driving to farms and heavily caffeinated.”
The same, however, could not be said about reaction to some of the other Farm Boy-collaborations. Some, he said, had “a political bent,” such as a Rick Mercer Rant-style challenge of then Premier Kathleen Wynne to save Kemptville College or a parody of a Dr. Seuss book entitled “Green Eggs and Max” — as in anti-supply management politician Maxime Bernier.
Other efforts, such as several appearances in a Santa suit urging the public to “Ho-Ho-Hold the nut juice” in favour of real dairy products, took up social causes near and dear to Ontario’s farm sector.
“The agricultural community has to find its voice,” he said adding he receives much positive feedback for his agricultural advocacy appearances. “We have to capture the narrative and tell our story. We cannot let the agenda of others — and, and believe me, everyone has one — to define our industry.”
On the lighter side, he was known for bringing fame to dairy farm pooches across the province with his Farm Dog of the Day posts on Facebook.
Henshaw plans to maintain a social media presence. He also will continue to serve a Barrie-based faith community that has supported the city’s less advantaged for several years. “I am heavily involved in a downtown ministry,” he explained. “We have a community centre, a residential treatment program for men suffering from addiction and complex trauma, (and) we also run a social enterprise coffeeshop called Higher Grounds Café where the workers are… learning job skills that will help them on their road in life.”
On the farm side, Henshaw will take up part-time work with a local veterinary practice, “serving some of the same herds I have cared for for 40 years”. And, along with his events and trade show commitments to EastGen, he remains on the steering committee for the Canadian Dairy Expo (CDX).
Henshaw agrees his position at the breeding organization gave him a unique perspective, compared with so many of his OVC classmates who moved into veterinary practice or further scholarly pursuits.
“Over the years, I have developed a great appreciation for frontline farmers and all they do and contend with to produce product and bring it to market.”
In particular, he says his life “was forever changed” in 1993 when a young farmer he knew took his own life. “From that day forward, I have never been too busy to look someone in the eye and ask them how they were doing. I have tried not only to help the farmer with his herd but also help him in life.
“I think that this holistic approach has made me a better veterinarian and a more compassionate human.”