Breathitt Vet Center gets a new home
(First appeared in Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association publication Cow Country News June issue)
By Ray Bowman
Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt served as Kentucky’s Governor from 1963 to 1967 during an era marked by profound changes in the nation’s civil rights laws and policies and a major focus on conservation and natural resources. An $875,000 bond issue for a state-of-the-art veterinary medicine facility probably didn’t draw much of the spotlight during those heady times.
The original 19,000 square-foot center was built in Christian County, KY, near Breathitt’s hometown of Hopkinsville in November of 1967. It would later be expanded to 44,000 square-feet and would become the first laboratory in the country to be fully accredited by the American Association of Laboratory Diagnosticians.
Initially, the Breathitt Veterinary Center and its sister facility, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington were operated by the state Department of Agriculture. In 1978, the Lexington Lab was transferred to the oversight of the University of Kentucky and Murray State University assumed responsibility for the BVC, charting a future course for the two facilities that would bring education and research into their missions.
The BVC was enlarged and renovated in 1982 and officially named the Breathitt Veterinary Center, but the mission of the center continued to outgrow the original facility. Following a feasibility study funded by the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy with Tobacco Settlement money, the Kentucky General Assembly approved $32 million for construction of a new lab.
On May 11, 2017, Governor Matt Bevin joined Murray State University president Robert O. Davies and a host of other dignitaries for the building’s official ribbon cutting ceremony.
“I’m grateful for the work that went into this project, and those of you who, from the beginning, had this vision and this passion and didn’t give up,” Governor Bevin said. “It takes time to do things right, and this is done right.”
The Governor also thanked the architect who designed the structure. “I cut ribbons on a lot of buildings, government buildings, and they’re kind of sad looking sometimes,” Bevin lamented. “This is a stunning, stunning facility.”
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles took the opportunity to underscore the importance of the facility to Kentucky’s agricultural economy. “Over half of all farm receipts in Kentucky, about $3.3 billion of the $6 billion total, come from animal agriculture,” Quarles told those in attendance. “Having a diagnostics lab that is internationally known matters, and having it right here in Kentucky is something that we are very, very proud of.”
The May 11 event marked the public unveiling of the BVC, however, Quarles pointed out that the facility had already had its mettle tested by a real-world emergency and had passed with flying colors.
The laboratory was conducting a routine pre-slaughter test of “spent hens,” birds no longer being used for production from a nearby layer facility. The tests revealed the presence of low-pathogenic Avian Influenza prompting quarantines and temporary suspension of live bird sales at sale and show events.
Thanks to quick action made possible by early detection, the poultry industry only experienced a brief disruption. “Fortunately, what used to be a bad scenario ended up pretty minor, and that’s something we can all be thankful for,” Quarles noted. “What a way to break in a new building!”
“Almost daily, we update the science used to diagnose disease and protect the public,” commented Dr. Debbie Reed, director of the Breathitt Veterinary Center. “The Commonwealth of Kentucky has placed a great deal of trust in us by investing in this facility, and we need to live up to that trust by being the best public servants possible.”