Fredonia's Globetrotting Vet

Roger Weigle travels so frequently to Russia, China and other countries to share his expertise as a farm animal veterinarian that he’s almost a commuter
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Roger Weigle is in the international dairy farm rescue business. Or, as he calls himself, he’s a “fixer.”

The Town of Fredonia resident has traveled to 40 countries over the past 12-plus years training veterinarians to better care for their dairy cows and make farms more productive.

Weigle, 70, moved to this area in 2011 from Shawano, where he had been a veterinarian for 28 years, when he married his wife, the former Karen Lewis. They live on 106 acres north of Waubeka.

He got into the international veterinary business through a large genetics company based in Shawano that hired him in 2005 to oversee some of their work in the United States. That led him to do pro bono work for the U.S. Agency for International Development and to be invited to help in other countries.

Since then he has worked in countries such as Sweden,  South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Korea, Japan, Iran, Bulgaria, Serbia, Poland and Turkey.

Weigle has been to China 30 times and has worked in Russia even more often, he said.

“They have these enormous dairy farms. There’s one farm in Russia with 250,000 cows,” he said.

Dairy farming is a growth industry in Russia, he said, with cows being imported from all over Europe and business interests investing heavily.

“But they rapidly discover they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

Weigle said his services are in high demand.

“I’m very well known in Russia and China. If they have something happening and they don’t know why, they call me. I come in and fix it,” he said. “I’m a fixer.”

The problem, he said, is the poor training of their vets and the backwardness of their farm practices.

“When I first arrived 12 and a half years ago, they were basically still the old collective farms from the Soviet Union days. Every farm has five vets on staff but their skill set is a equal to a first-year animal science student in the States,” Weigle said. “Basically they were worthless. They did not know how to do any surgery. And they weren’t being paid anything because they weren’t worth anything.”

So his time is spent less treating animals than teaching vets.

“I basically teach people how to make their animals happy and productive,” he said.

The farmers and farm vets aren’t always glad to see him, Weigle said.

“Everybody hates you at first because you’re telling them everything they’re doing wrong,” he said.

Weigle said it’s not that he’s an exceptional vet by American standards.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m very good at what I do. But the average veterinarian is an intensely competent person and highly capable of doing what I do,” he said. “But you have to be a teacher as well. You have to have the ability to go into the very back of beyond and convince someone to give it a try.”

With all his travels, Weigle said he hasn’t been home much but that’s beginning to change.

“Up until the last two years I haven’t been in the U.S. much. I would be gone for eight months or more at a time,” he said. “There was a time when I was crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific every three weeks.”

When he is home he likes to bake his own bread and enjoy his land, much of which he rents to local dairy farmer Chris Elve.  

Weigle also enjoys sailing on his 42-foot, two-masted sailboat, the only one like it in the Port Washington marina.

He moved it up to Port Washington from Miami this summer.

“I bought it in Miami five years ago and left it there. But the last couple years the weather has been terrible,” he said. “This last year we spent time in the (Florida) Keys hiding” from the weather.

It’s not for racing, which he also likes to do.

“It’s a cruising boat, made for living aboard. It’s a Winnebago with two masts,” he said.

So he joins other crews for races when he has that itch, he said.

The fees Weigle earns from his work overseas go into a foundation to help fund animal rescue operations, including those operated by his wife, Karen, he said.

He has taken his wife on his trips, but not very often because of questionable food and accommodations.

“She occasionally goes with me. But sometimes my translator tells me we’re having sheep intestines and turnips,” he said. “Hotels are pretty iffy. You have to make reservations to take a shower in some places. What’s (considered) good in some of these countries I wouldn’t let my dog sleep in.”

This summer he took his wife to Belgorod in Russia but only after he was promised she would have a driver, an interpreter and tour guide while he was working.

While the job has its challenges, Weigle said he most enjoys working with the veterinarians.

One vet named Sergei he befriended in Russia has done well for himself under Weigle’s tutelage.

“I told Sergei this is going to make you more valuable and that he was saving cows who otherwise would have died,” Weigle said. “This guy’s salary went up 300 percent in a year.

“After they figure out you’re helping them professionally and helping them take care of their families, they’re happy to see you,” Weigle said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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