It’s time for industry-wide change in large animal veterinary services

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Each segment has its own issues and I can only talk about veterinary medicine. Veterinary students are increasingly urban and admission is increasingly based on academic records. Unfortunately, many students from rural areas who are more likely to return to underserved or unserved areas to do large animal work are often academically and financially disadvantaged. They may have work obligations that may interfere with studies. Many can start at community colleges. When they start at a four-year college, a bad semester becomes much harder to overcome. Moreover, the cost of eight years of higher education has skyrocketed over the past 40 years.

My total tuition for my senior year of vet school in 1981 was $990. Now students can incur student debt of $250,000 or more. Even if they are lucky enough to graduate debt-free, they have invested a significant amount of money in their education and they rightly expect a return on that investment in money and time.

Producers also face challenges. Cash flow issues can make professional fees seem like an unbearable expense rather than a cost of doing business and an investment in the company’s future. Many growers are part-time farmers with full-time work obligations that can conflict when problems arise or even when routine veterinary care is needed.

If we can find a way for veterinary services to become a win-win solution for both parties, we will go a long way to solving this problem.

For example, rather than calling a vet in an attempt to deliver a day-old dead calf—almost always a losing proposition for both—both should work with other stakeholders to avoid dystocia in the first place. At least let’s try to get ourselves in a good position to give birth to a live calf. This could mean looking at bull selection, heifer development, improving handling facilities, moving to a controlled calving season and a stronger herd health and nutrition program. This process may include extension workers, consultants, seed growers, nutritionists and people from agricultural supply companies.

It’s also important to find ways to maximize cash flow for everyone. Improved marketing options, as well as using lenders and farm accountants to help develop a workable financial plan can help maximize cash flow.

Stockyards, order buyers, storage operators, feedlots and packers should also look for ways to help producers become more profitable. We are all in there. We are not independent agents. We must be interdependent to be successful in the long term.

I certainly don’t have the answers, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. But perhaps your question and these thoughts can be a small catalyst to start a larger conversation about a major issue facing our industry. It’s time to change.

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Editor’s note:

Please contact your veterinarian if you have any questions regarding the health of your herd or other animals. Each operation is unique and the information in this column does not apply to all situations. This is not medical advice, but for informational purposes only.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email vet@progressivefarmer.com.


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