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A little bit of home

story by Elizabeth Frantz

Melissa Mitchell recalls wanting to be a veterinarian "ever since I can remember."

And she has been fulfilling that dream since 2004. But it's not the only role that defines her.

She is a wife, the mother of a blended family, and a farmer, too.

Working with dairy cows is integral to Melissa's identity: "It's in my blood. It's my passion."

Melissa grew up on a dairy farm in Grant County and has always been around cattle. Today she lives on an Angus farm that her husband Brandon manages, and she works with cattle as a large animal veterinarian at Shelby Veterinary Clinic in Shelbyville, where she is a partner.

But that's not enough.

In the evenings in a back field on the farm, Melissa checks on her Brown Swiss dairy cow, Splenda, and Splenda's calves. She owns more than a dozen dairy cows elsewhere.

"I guess it just keeps a little bit of home here," she says.

While checking up on the momma cow and calves, Melissa often brings a little one along. Grant, 5 months, goes to childcare when Melissa works at the clinic, but out on the farm the baby comes along for the ride.

Farming and motherhood are "24-7" jobs.

Sometimes her son Caleb Lipps, 6, joins them, and Melissa gives him a hands-on approach to learning about her passion for farming, like learning to guide a calf to a pen. The pair might also take advantage of rare, less busy afternoons to skip rocks on a pond and hang out. After all, they only see each other during half of the week. Caleb lives with his father during the other half.

With his long days on the farm, Melissa doesn't get to see her husband Brandon very much, either. But the two take advantage of every possible moment.

Even if that's just a quick kiss as their paths cross out on the farm.

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Melissa looks through the window of her truck and smiles at Grant while driving around the farm checking up on cows.

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Caleb, 6, watches as Melissa guides her calf Junior back up the hill towards her truck.

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As she wipes her forehead, Melissa (center) works to extract an abscessed tooth from a cat as veterinary technician Shayla Bolin (left) and groomer Jenny Mudd look on. "That phrase – pulling teeth. I know exactly what they mean. It's my least favorite thing to do," Melissa says later.

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Caleb shows off his moves while spending the morning at work with Melissa at the Shelby Veterinary Clinic. Caleb didn't have school that day.

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Melissa tries to encourage Caleb to let a calf suckle his fingers, but the boy pulls away. Melissa has been around cattle all her life and wants her son to have the experience. "You're not a city kid!" she says.

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"Rarely do I have time to do things with Caleb like I could do today," Melissa says. Melissa shares custody of Caleb with his father.

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Melissa (left) and farm foreman Dirseo Ramales wrangle a cow to the ground so that Melissa can sew up a laceration during a farm visit. While women veterinarians are common, it's uncommon for women to become large animal vets.

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Hoping he doesn't start crying, Melissa tries leaving Grant on the floor within sight, so she can finish washing his bottles before feeding him. The baby boy has become extra fussy in the past few weeks and wants to be held all the time. He begins crying almost immediately and Melissa picks him up again after less than a minute.

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Caleb Lipps (from left) considers a head start on his dinner while he says grace with his stepfather, Brandon Mitchell, and his mother, Melissa. Between long days, nights on call and the chaos of parenting, Melissa and the family rarely eat together at home. "We eat out more than we should," she says.