Increase your involvement on the farm to add value

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In my June column, I discussed situations where communications between the dairy practitioner and client broke down, leaving the doctor "out of the loop" with disease outbreaks. Since then, I have worked on two farms where the herd veterinarian was deeply and routinely involved with herd decisions. This involvement started with participation in farm management meetings.

In my June column, I discussed situations where communications between the dairy practitioner and client broke down, leaving the doctor "out of the loop" with disease outbreaks. Since then, I have worked on two farms where the herd veterinarian was deeply and routinely involved with herd decisions. This involvement started with participation in farm management meetings.

At the first farm, the veterinary profession was strongly represented, with three of us present, fulfilling three different roles. The first was the local practitioner, who was most familiar with all aspects of the herd, including disease incidence and treatment protocols. The second was a veterinarian who provided ration balancing and nutritional consultation. I was the third, representing the feed company that provided much of the ration ingredients.

The meeting consisted of three stages.

Meeting components

The first involved sitting at a table in the farm office, reviewing records, discussing herd performance and brainstorming suggestions. Much of the information reviewed had been organized and presented by the local doctor.

Following this discussion, we walked through the herd, observing body condition, manure characteristics, feed appearance, foot health and cow comfort. After the walk through, we returned to the office to decide exactly what actions should be taken by the farm management staff to maximize herd performance and profit.

This type of format works very well, because it allows the group to discuss problems revealed in the records before walking through the cows. The subsequent observation of animals and their environment is then a bit more focused. This "office-cows-office" format allows all possible information to be reviewed before decisions are made. One of the farm management staff takes notes and electronically distributes a summary of the visit to all involved.

The second meeting was similar to the first, except that ration balancing was performed by a nutritionist from my company, and he was present. On this farm, the local practitioner provided the agenda and led the meeting. He began by reviewing notes from the previous meeting, focusing on the action items. For each item, he noted what had been done, and what results had been observed.

After this stage of the visit, he proceeded to do reproductive palpations and then to treat one or two sick animals. The nutritionist and I walked through the herd and then rejoined the doctor and the client to share our observations.

On this farm, an electronic summary of the meeting was prepared and distributed by herd veterinarian.

In my opinion, the local practitioners on both of these farms are serving their clients in a very complete manner. They are "down in the trenches" with them with sick cows, providing individual animal treatment.

They do reproductive palpations, giving the producer valuable information by identifying non-pregnant cows, so that attention can be focused on those animals. Finally, they provide service by contributing their perspective and leadership at the farm management meeting. It is unlikely that these doctors will find themselves "out of the loop" when a disease outbreak occurs or a management change is made.

As you read this, you may be thinking that many of your clients don't even have such meetings. This could be due to one of two reasons. They may be small herds where the owner and his family do the work, and they talk about management issues over meals, or not at all.

Take time

You can become part of the process by taking time after reproductive exams to review records and discuss management. Many smaller producers are actually hungry for some outside input. When I was in practice, I served mainly "family farms", and often sat around a kitchen table with husband, wife and sometimes children following a routine herd visit.

On larger farms, staff meetings are extremely valuable to keep staff members informed and involved with management. If such meetings are not being held, you have a great opportunity to enlarge your role and enhance your value.

Many larger producers would welcome someone who would provide an agenda, lead the discussion, and then provide a summary of management meetings.

You can provide that service, benefiting both yourself and your clients.

Of course for you to fully benefit, you need to be paid for your efforts. I found that producers who perceived a value for such meetings were more than willing to pay me for my time.

I think you will find the same. In some cases, you might offer to discount your fee for the actual meeting time, if you feel that you are learning from other participants. This is more appropriate if someone else is preparing the agenda, leading the meeting and providing the summary.

Be fair with your client, but do not simply give your time away.

Many dairy producers view their veterinarian as someone who palpates cows and treats sick animals. You can increase your value and your compensation if you proactively expand your role into management. Leading or attending staff meetings is a great way to do so, leading to the always desired result of "win-win" for both parties.

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