Who’s Who – Ontario – Dr. Jess Walkey
By Lilian SchaerFeatures Researchers
Poultry vet a practice owner, teacher, mentor and speaker.
She’s only at the start of her career, but poultry veterinarian Dr. Jess Walkey already has the responsibilities and profile of a much more senior practitioner. She’s owner and lead veterinarian of Joyce Veterinary Service in Hillsburgh, Ont., and has become a valued speaker at industry events, mentor and advocate for the poultry industry.
Her family didn’t have a connection to agriculture while she was growing up – if they had, she could well imagine herself with a career in farming instead. But Walkey has always had a great appreciation and passion for animals, which led her to University of Guelph.
A human behind every animal
She worked on a dairy farm during her undergraduate days and, after some time at University of British Columbia while she played on the Canadian Women’s National Field Hockey team, she started her veterinary degree at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).
“We don’t have vets in my family so that opportunity seemed like such a far-off goal. But as you start on the epic progression through medical school, you quickly realize that every animal has a human associated with them – and to be a successful vet, you have to find your way to connect with people,” Walkey says.
She’d been attracted to food animal medicine early on in her veterinary studies, which she eventually narrowed down to a particular interest in poultry. It was meeting Dr. Mike Joyce, a renowned and now retired Ontario poultry veterinarian, during her fourth year at OVC that set her on her current path.
“I met Dr. Mike when his name came forward as a senior practitioner and when I connected with him, he sent me his address so I could go with him on rotation,” she remembers. “Bless his heart for taking me on – he was always so passionate in helping students.”
She graduated from OVC in 2018, joined the clinic and became the practice owner soon afterwards, with Joyce retiring in fall 2020.
“It was a rapid progression. My parents were both involved in business in various capacities, so I grew up with business around the table. I lucked out in meeting Mike and where he was in his career in deciding what his retirement could look like and what would happen to his legacy,” she says. “When I hopped in his car that first day, we hit it off and the light bulb went off for both of us.”
Focus on flock monitoring and prevention
Joyce Veterinary Service is entirely specialized in poultry medicine, with a particular focus on flock monitoring and preventative medicine. Its all-female staff now includes Walkey, two additional vets, a veterinary technician and a digital manager.
The team has embraced the use of big data to better understand disease trends and preventative monitoring for producers. That has involved digitizing the collection and storage of the clinic’s data, as well as moving to online scripts and electronic customer tracking, which has made operations more efficient and more environmentally sustainable too.
Producer-specific dashboards make it easier to track and predict disease trends, which Walkey and her team use to establish farm-specific preventative programs for producers that help reduce disease risk while maximizing flock welfare and producer profitability. Under Joyce, the clinic had long been known for tracking disease incidence and impact and for building long-standing relationships with producers.
“I’ve always been interested in data and we’ve only just scratched the surface with this; it will be a major driver for our practice in the future,” she says. “We hope to expand locations and push for digital platforms and services to meet the needs of producers. We always want to be listening to what their needs are and tailoring our services to that.”
Teaching, mentoring and coaching
Beyond her role as a vet and a business owner, Walkey is a frequent speaker at poultry industry events and producer meetings. She’s also an active mentor and teacher of students, providing rotations and externships to OVC students that open their eyes to the possibilities of the poultry industry, something not well covered in vet school. The coaching aspect of her career is one of the most rewarding, she feels, linking it back to her competitive sports career.
“I have a passion for helping people reach their goals and there’s a team approach through sports that includes aspects of teaching and coaching. It’s a win when you can provide coaching or leadership and I owe my own start to that,” she says. “I’m learning as much as I teach; the ability to have a young mind standing in front of you asking challenging questions keeps us on the leading edge of gold standard medicine and prevention.”
Walkey’s teaching ability is one of the things Dr. Kayla Price admires most about her. Price is the Canadian technical manager for Alltech and first got to know Walkey when she was a student in the Joyce clinic.
“Veterinary medicine is very complex with many things that are important and many big diseases that are challenging for industry members and producers to be able to understand – her ability to translate that into a way that someone with minimal background knowledge can understand and taking the time to explain it, it’s very special,” Price says.
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