The livestock industry and rural veterinarians are becoming resigned to the lack of newly graduated vet students interested in practicing food animal medicine. FACT: only 5% of DVMs graduating from U.S. vet schools in 2007 entered predominantly large animal practices.
This shortage is manifested by the difficulty of rural veterinarians to hire new graduates. It is also a problem for cattle farmers nationwide who run a small herd along with crops. These small farmers are the 80% who oversee 20% of the cattle.
Granted, big cattle operations; dairy, feedlot or purebred breeders are often willing to pay extra, or hire permanently, DVMs with specialized experience. These operators are the 20% who oversee 80% of the cattle.
There has been a concerted effort by some vet schools to select students who might lean toward large animal practice. Results have been disappointing.
Over time I have talked with many about the possibility of using trained assistants, working with or for, licensed DVMs. One promising idea was a ‘Super’ vet tech. This position, or profession would come with a Bachelor’s Degree that included classroom and hands-on training in Dairy (palpation, baby calf raising, mastitis and reproduction), Feedlot (pneumonia, rumen pathology, nutrition and necropsy), and Cow-Calf (baby calf diarrhea, abortion, infertility, palpation and poison plants).
There is a muddy river between this idea of Super vet techs, and its implementation including resistance from DVMs who worry they might lose business. As well as the recognition from vets that Super vet techs would offer more and therefore should be paid more than the high school kid who mucks out your stalls. Also the financing and establishment of a curriculum, which procedures would be permitted, the rules of certification, and the shrapnel of details and objections that frustrate a solution and take our collective eye off the ball.
Right now we are standing on the edge of the bank looking at a future across the river where 20% of the livestock and 80% of the farmers will have very limited access to professional veterinary care. They will get their information and advice from knowledgeable sources like pharmaceutical salesmen and county agents, plus their horse shoer, brand inspector and local tire dealer … which will be nothing new. Up until 60 years ago most cattlemen did not use veterinarians anyway! We will have come full circle.But I’m an optimist. Many of the people I’m visiting with are already standing in mud up to their ankles, wading into the river searching for a solution to insure that in twenty years there will still be such a thing as a cow doc.