What to look for in a veterinary professional

Veterinarians, animal nutritionists, hoof trimmers, food-safety specialists and regulatory experts all play roles in looking after livestock herds.

Within each of these areas, several characteristics will show themselves to be more valuable.

For starters, producers should look for professionals with whom they share a similar mindset. Those with a perceived vested interest in the operation and who show a willingness to focus on preventive medicine and growing cattle efficiently are likely to be highly sought after. These days, there are often good relationships between professional animal-care groups. Veterinarians don’t have all the answers but they can be the point at which other groups get involved.

A foot issue in the herd, for example, may involve the herd veterinarian together with the nutritionist and the hoof trimmer, who first spotted a potential foot problem. It is important that these professionals work together and are not operating in separate silos.

Veterinarians carry out herd-health-related procedures, such as pregnancy exams and semen evaluations, but they are also available for setting up vaccination schedules and other preventive programs.

However, emergencies still happen, especially at calving season, and can be a game breaker in some situations. This is why most cattle producers work with a local veterinary clinic to keep the vet’s distance to the farm as short as possible.

I still believe in the combination of herd medicine and individual animal medicine. Haul-in facilities are nice for making efficient use of the veterinarian’s time. Surgeries such as caesarean sections are more controlled and sterility is maintained better than in a barn situation.

Haul-in facilities can have tilt tables for better care of lameness or ease in handling foot surgeries. With the high value of breeding bulls, proper attention to foot care, penile surgeries and other procedures are important because they can restore the bulls to breeding condition.

Shipping to slaughter is not the only answer, especially with valuable animals. Insurance companies are finding this out and many now keep in mind value for future breeding, age of the bull and prognosis for any procedure.

Many procedures can be done in clinics, but some clinics may not have properly trained personnel. Availability of treatment for things like fractured tibias on young calves, navel surgeries, orthopedics or joint lavage can be hit and miss, so producers should inquire before transporting the affected animal.

With a shortage of large animal veterinary clinics, labour-intensive procedures may not always be available.

Producers must ask what services a clinic provides and realize the limitations and specializations of some clinics.

Some clinics might specialize in embryo transplants, semen collection and freezing, or feedlot medicine, for example. Other avenues of expertise are developing in estrus synchronization, lameness treating (foot care), protocol development and record-keeping (traceability).

Few clinics are doing regulatory (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) work because of the complexities and time commitment.

Those who need work in these areas should ask for a referral to a regional clinic.

For unusual deaths, disease outbreaks or abnormalities during gestation, most local vets can reach out to veterinary colleges that have disease investigation units, if the need arises.

The collaborative efforts on behalf of the various professionals are designed to improve herd health and assist the industry. Lots of good help is out there.

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