Even before she was tall enough to look a heifer in the eye, Alexandra Colton knew what she wanted to do when she grew up.

A couple decades later, Colton is close to achieving her goal of becoming a veterinarian.

More specifically, a veterinarian who specializes in keeping beef cattle and dairy cows healthy.

Colton, who grew up on her family’s FC Colton Ranch near Wolf Creek, northwest of North Powder, said she just five when she decided on what would be her ideal career.

“As long as I can remember I had a love for animals, from working with calves on our ranch during calving season,” said Colton, a 2014 graduate of Powder Valley High School.

Colton, 25, earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences at Oregon State University. She’s in her fourth and final year at OSU’s veterinary school, on pace to graduate in June 2022.

That pace is decidedly hectic.

“I am typically at the hospital anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day during the week,” Colton said.

But Colton recently received a financial boost, and national recognition, when she was picked as one of 18 veterinary students to receive a $5,000 scholarship from Merck Animal Health.

The company awards the scholarships to students who are interested in beef or dairy veterinary medicine. Recipients were honored during the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) annual conference Oct. 7-9 in Salt Lake City.

To qualify, students must be AABP members.

“These 18 students exemplify what the future of veterinary medicine needs: leadership, ambition and a devotion to continuously elevating and improving animal health and well-being,” Justin Welsh, executive director of livestock technical services for Merck Animal Health, said in a press releasing announcing the scholarship recipients.

Colton, who was not able to attend the conference due to her rigorous schedule at OSU, said she was “just basically in shock” when she learned about the award.

“I’m still in shock,” she said on Wednesday, Oct. 13. “I was so pleasantly surprised.”

Colton said she never diverted from the career path she chose as a little girl.

During the summer after she graduated from Powder Valley, she worked with Dr. Kim Mahaffey at the Baker Veterinary Hospital.

She also did job shadows with two other Baker City veterinarians, Drs. Tom Hill and Brett Hamilton.

Then, for four summers starting in 2017, she worked during the summer at a small animal clinic in Washington.

Colton said she intends after graduation to return to either Eastern Oregon or Eastern Washington. Her goal is to join a veterinary practice where she can focus about 70% of her time treating large animals, and in particular beef cattle and dairy cows, with the rest of her time devoted to dogs, cats and other smaller animals.

“I really want to focus my career on supporting the ag industry,” Colton said.

Her ultimate goal is to own her own clinic.

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