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Veterinarian Role Is Changing

Over my 24 years as a veterinarian, the biggest change in practice has been the shift from the 911/fire engine practice to one involving herd health -related procedures.

The progressive farm owner nowadays utilizes a lot of preventative health practices, which eliminate a large percentage of emergency calls. No one is happy in an unplanned health crisis. With emergencies, I find veterinarians are often considered the necessary evil to solve the problem. Herd health calls today involve a co-operative spirit with the veterinarian becoming an integral part in the food production chain.

Not many years ago our practice did in excess of 450 C-sections per year. Nowadays with fewer cow-calf numbers in our area we will do considerably less than 50 procedures. That is a ninefold decrease.

Being careful with bull selection and watching nutrition and exercise significantly reduce calving problems. There will always be the odd uterine torsion or monster calf such as a schistosomas reflexus (inside out calf). These are not preventable but their incidence is rare. Breech births are the most frequent malpresentations veterinarians face and we also see in increase in the number of twin births.

Overall veterinarians are a lot happier not having to spend endless nights working during the spring. They can devote more waking time to important preventative decisions such as developing vaccination programs, parasite control, nutritional consultation, bull testing and selection.

Fertility testing of bulls and pregnancy examinations of cows are two procedures all farms should have done by their veterinarian. Both have a huge economic return to the bottom line. I am very happy to report I have never performed either procedure at 3 a.m.!!!

These procedures are booked well in advance. Neighbours often book in together minimizing mileage and accessing each other’s casual labour. They also exchange management ideas at this time. With everyone attentive any other health concerns are brought up and discussed. The veterinarian seizes this opportunity to assess nutritional condition of the herd checks for parasites and samples for anything else he/she may feel is relevant or beneficial to your herd.

Even though blanket herd-health policies are good, every herd is unique and may require a different vaccination, nutritional supplement or other product. We cannot paint all herds with the same brush. Geographic location, cattle type, feed source, month of calving and knowledge of workers may all require tweaking of an overall herd

health plan. With some producer’s production is their highest concern with others keeping costs low and back grounding may fit better into their management plan.

With sick calves and cows, we as veterinarians apply greater focus to whole herd — yes, there is a sick animal but is this the sentinel case that may affect the whole herd or just an incidental one? It allows us, in sentinel cases, to initiate preventative measures in the herd or change the management plan for the following season. The focus becomes totally one of preventing disease rather than treating it.

There is the constant need for veterinarians to educate our clients. Every producer is at a different level. Some are very up to date with the latest developments and keep us on our toes. Others are just starting in the business and everything is new to them. Veterinarians must have excellent communication skills to converse at all these different levels of expertise.

Facilities for handling large animals have improved greatly over the years. Maternity pens make calving and c-sections remarkably easier than the old “tie the cow to a post with a lariat.” Chute systems with good palpation cages make pregnancy checking faster and more economical. Larger producers utilizing hydraulic squeezes reduces the physical workload of checking cattle. I truly believe the stress on the cattle is greatly reduced with these chutes as animals are caught and squeezed immediately taking the struggle out of them. Blood sampling or any other monitoring task will likely be undertaken as it is not the major ordeal it once was with poorer handling facilities.

Procedures like bull evaluations could not be done at many farms in the past, as facilities were not large enough or strong enough to handle them. As a result of improvements in this area bulls are given the necessary health treatments they need including foot trimming. Health and longevity are thus improved in the herd sires.

Veterinary medicine is one vocation, which is very dynamic. New advancements, diseases, regulations make the agricultural field a moving target. Whether its biosecurity issues brought to light with foot and mouth disease, implementing the national identification system, the On Farm Food Safety Program or deciding on new advancements in vaccines or antibiotics veterinarians must keep current. They will continue to work diligently with the food animal sector and strive to make animal products safer, healthier and complete tasks, which improve the producer’s bottom line.

RoyLewisisapractisinglargeanimal veterinarianattheWestlockVeterinaryCenter, northofEdmonton,AB.Hismaininterestsare bovinereproductionandherdhealth


Overall veterinarians are a lot happier not having to spend endless nights working during the spring… Being care with bull selection and watching nutrition and exercise significantly reduce calving problems

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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