Make The Most Of Your Veterinary Relationship

By: Heather Smith Thomas

It pays to have a good working relationship with a veterinarian who can answer questions and assist in herd health management strategy and/or feedlot health to help prevent problems. This is generally more helpful, and more profitable in the long run, than just relying on the veterinarian for emergencies.

Dr. James England, University of Idaho, says producers tend to be emergency-oriented, and hesitant to pay for advice. “They may discuss health issues while the veterinarian is on the ranch palpating cows, but what’s needed is to occasionally just sit down and talk about preventative maintenance, like what to use in a vaccination program,” he says.

It also helps if the producer and veterinarian can get together with a nutritionist regarding the overall health program. “As a veterinarian, nothing I can do or suggest will work very well unless the animals are adequately fed,” says England. Nutrition (proper amounts and balance of certain nutrients) affects everything else in a cattle operation such as fertility and the immune system. Deficiencies can be the root of many problems.

Consulting with the veterinarian periodically gives opportunity to discuss any problems experienced that year, or ask about new vaccines (to know which ones to use). There’s not much difference in vaccines, but the important thing is to make sure you are using one that matches your management, production or health maintenance program.

By having the veterinarian as a consultant, you can stay ahead of the curve, rather than dealing with emergencies after the fact. A veterinarian is also aware of new products that might be helpful in your operation. If there is a change in vaccines or dewormers, the veterinarian can make recommendations. “One of the big problems is fly control. It’s tough to stay ahead of resistant flies. Veterinarians are keyed into this, and know what you might be able to use,” says John Hall, Extension Beef Specialist, University of Idaho.

“The vet has to feed and clothe his/her family 365 days of the year, just like we all do. One way he/she can do that is charge a high fee every time you have an emergency. The other way is by helping you increase your profit margin by having you pay for his/her expertise in certain areas—and maybe prevent catastrophes,” says Hall.

“If you save a few more calves, or get 3 more cows bred, or prevent more feedlot pulls, you can afford that consultation. Putting the veterinarian into a partnership role can pay off. It’s hard for producers to become educated about health issues when the only opportunity is during an emergency. It’s hard for the veterinarian to concentrate on anything else, other than dealing with the emergency. The producer wants to know how to prevent this happening to the next cow or calf. During times of year when things are a little slow, you can get together and discuss things,” says Hall. You can look at problems you had last year and what you might do differently.

David Van Metre, Associate Professor and Extension Veterinarian at Colorado State University, says many diseases are more successfully prevented than treated. “If a serious health problem develops in a herd or feed yard, something has already gone wrong. Most veterinarians can serve as an important resource for helping clients figure out why certain diseases occur, and how management and environment can be changed to help prevent disease. Other ways veterinarians can be utilized include health programs like vaccination, deworming strategies, and helping clients design treatment protocols to ensure that appropriate medications are used for specific problems,” says Van Metre.

Your vet can help with a bio-security program. “Where are purchased animals coming from?” asks England. “Are you keeping purchased animals separate from the main herd until you know they are free of disease? Do your cattle run on range with other ranchers’ cattle? If you are doing the maximum for herd health and someone else in the grazing association is doing minimum, it may cost you money for extra vaccinations but save a lot more money in the long run. A little money spent on consultation with your vet might prevent a big wreck on down the road,” England says.

Dr. Mark Bramwell, one of 4 veterinarians at South Fork Veterinary Clinic in Rigby, Idaho, says a good relationship with his clients helps them become more successful. “We’ve talked about minerals and the huge health benefits to cattle that are not mineral deficient. In our region we have severe deficiencies (particularly copper and selenium). Many ranchers come ask us what vaccines they should use, and we try to be available to answer their questions, give advice, and proactively discuss herd health issues,” says Bramwell.

Van Metre stresses the need for veterinarians to be educators, able to explain and demonstrate health care procedures and diagnostics (even basic necropsies) to stockmen. “Most producers want to do a good job; they want to raise healthy animals and are willing to learn. Our side of the obligation is to be able to teach. The opportunity to teach is a two-way street; the stockman must be willing to learn, and the veterinarian must be willing to listen and learn as well. For example, some of the best tips on helping heifers with dystocia is one I learned from a rancher,” he says.

The subject of antibiotic use is one that is gaining more attention today, and this is another area where a good working relationship with your veterinarian pays off. He/she can be familiar enough with your operation (as well as diagnosing any sick animals) to prescribe the proper antibiotic, instruct you in the best use of antibiotics, and write a VFD (Veterinary Feed Directive) if needed. The VFD is a written statement from a licensed veterinarian authorizing the producer to purchase and use certain antimicrobial drugs in and on livestock feed. A vet-client relationship is required for a VFD.

The client-veterinarian relationship is important, to discuss the medications being used, and the ones the producer might plan to use. Consulting with your veterinarian ensures that you will be able to comply with the current requirements for a VFD, and any new requirements that come along in the future.