Veterinary Viewpoints: Cultivating veterinarian and producer relationships

What does a great relationship between a veterinarian and livestock owner look like?
calendar icon 20 March 2023
clock icon 6 minute read

Livestock owners and veterinarians can agree that a strong relationship is critical for success in animal health and when done right, can be rewarding for all involved.

Dr. Meredyth Jones, associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, sought out the veterinarian’s perspective on what makes this relationship successful. A large group of rural, large animal veterinarians were surveyed and almost all responses fell into ten themes.

  1. Organization. Have plans set when the veterinarian arrives, make sure all farm personnel are on the same page and have one person designated to make decisions. Even seemingly little things like already having tags made, having records at the chute, and knowing where the open cows will go when exiting the chute is important. This really helps veterinarians to be efficient and saves the owner money, as most vets charge for their time.

  2. Round up the animals. Please have the animal or animals that need to be seen gathered and ready to go. Most of the time, your animals are easier to gather without distractions such as unfamiliar trucks. Even down animals need to be restrained in some way. Down animals should have a rope or halter placed on them and be tied to an immobile object, like a tractor.

  3. Safety. Please try to provide a safe working environment. This includes both equipment and animal factors. Having well-designed and maintained pens, alleyways and chutes helps ensure the safety of the animal and people who will be in and around the facility. Cattle that are regularly worked with in a calm and quiet manner are much safer to work around than those who are handled by chasing, yelling or with excessive electric prod use. Many ranchers will only process cattle a few days per year, while a veterinarian spends weeks at a time processing animals all day, every day. This results in a significant amount of wear and tear on our bodies. Producers should always have a way to safely restrain animals.

  4. Regular appointments. Please call your veterinarian for routine work, not just emergencies. Many veterinarians are seeing an increased caseload which has significantly limited their availability. As such, many have decided to only see emergencies from regular clients. This can leave you in a bind if you don’t have an established, daytime relationship with a veterinarian. Another benefit to this relationship is establishing treatment protocols and prevention plans on your ranch. This can significantly reduce your yearly veterinary costs. Most after-hours emergencies could be avoided with these plans in place.

  5. Make emergency calls ASAP. Please call your veterinarian early for suspected emergencies. Even with the best plans in place, emergencies will happen. If you think a heifer may calve in the evening, call to give your vet a heads up before 5 p.m. It may seem small, but calling early gives them a chance to understand the situation and perhaps provide some coaching to help you know when intervention is needed. Getting your veterinarian involved, even by phone, as early as possible greatly increases the chances of timely action and a positive outcome.

  6. Understand the beef industry. Please understand the beef industry as a whole and the vital role you have in it. If you are a cow-calf operator, your calves move forward to the stocker/backgrounder phase, then to the feedlot and finally the processor. While this is a concept producers understand well, what often goes unrecognized is the success of the industry depends on the performance of these animals at each step of the journey. If a calf leaves the cow-calf sector without strong disease immunity due to inadequate nutrition, parasites or lacking proper vaccinations, it costs the industry in lost performance at the next phase and negatively impacts each phase after. Be invested in what happens to your animals in each phase of the cycle and the impact that has on animal welfare, food quality and industry reputation.

  7. Have and share prevention plans. Share your vaccination and deworming plans for your herd and give us an opportunity to advise you. Selling vaccines and dewormers is not a high-profit area for veterinarians, so they are able to advise with less bias toward certain companies or products. It is important to ensure you’re getting information from someone with a perspective on what diseases are present in your area and who has your economic viability as their top priority.

  8. Understand the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). You may say, “Isn’t that what this whole article is about?” Well, kind of. The VCPR is more than just how the veterinarian and client relate to each other, it is a legally defined relationship required for a veterinarian to provide you with prescription drugs. The components of this relationship are: the veterinarian has made a preliminary diagnosis and is available for follow up; the veterinarian has a working knowledge of the animal’s environment and care; and the veterinarian ensures appropriate drug withdrawals are observed. A VCPR can be established in different ways, including in-person visits to a ranch at regular intervals, written protocols for disease identification and treatment on the farm and seeing an individual sick animal and making a diagnosis. This is another example of how having a regular, daytime relationship with your veterinarian can save you time and money in the long run.

  9. Help your veterinarian understand the situation. When your veterinarian is asking a lot of questions, he or she is doing so to better understand your operation—your goals, your challenges, your herd health plan and how you operate. This not only helps to solve a problem, but also helps develop plans specific to your place and herd. There is a reason for every question we ask; we really are trying to find a resolution to a problem and a plan to prevent another one.

  10. Share your nutrition program with your veterinarian. A common misconception is that veterinarians do not get any nutritional training. Nutrition is an important part of the veterinary curriculum and is even expanding in many programs. As with any professional, there are some who may have a stronger interest in nutrition than others, just like there are accountants with a stronger interest in corporate taxes than personal taxes. Most veterinarians do not intend to overhaul your feeding program. Rather, they seek to understand your feeding goals. This can help give your veterinarian perspective on other aspects of your herd health plan such as the ability of animals to respond to vaccines and disease exposures, fertility in the herd and risk for parasite problems. Nutrition is not only your biggest cost, but it is also foundational to everything else in the herd.

At the end of the day, your veterinarian wants to serve you. The increased volume of cases veterinarians are currently experiencing may lead to delays in scheduling farm visits. Please keep in mind, veterinarians are working hard to serve all their clients with highest quality care. By taking the steps outlined in this article, you are ensuring the best outcome for you, your herd and your veterinarian.

Oklahoma State University

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