Industry veterinarians and private practitioners: Can we work together?


"Oh, by the way. One of the drug companies is arranging for one of their veterinarians to come in and evaluate our mastitis problems. I think he is supposed to be here on Friday."

"Oh, by the way. One of the drug companies is arranging for one of their veterinarians to come in and evaluate our mastitis problems. I think he is supposed to be here on Friday."

I recall hearing that information from a client shortly before leavingpractice, and I remember being irritated that the veterinarian did not havethe professional courtesy to let me know.

Now I serve in the role of the industry veterinarian, and have occasionallybeen guilty of doing the same thing. In either case, an opportunity wasmissed to better serve the client and build better relationships.

The private practitioners are sometimes just as guilty. I have almostalways touched base and invited the local doctor to either join us or provideinput before I do a farm visit.

I always send them a copy of my report. Yet many are completely indifferent,and when I ask the producer about his veterinarian's input, the answer isoften, "He has no interest in prevention or management. He's too busywith emergencies."

Whether or not that judgment is accurate, it is their perception.

Take it to the farm

In contrast to these scenarios, I recently did a farm visit on behalfof my company where the cooperation between myself, and the private practitionerwas ideal. Let me review how it went. I work for a feed company in the Northeast,and my primary duties are to oversee their commercial calf and heifer operations.In addition, I do farm visits with sales staff one or two days a month,trying to solve management problems.

On this particular farm, our sales manager believed there was significantopportunity to improve milk production if we made some changes in youngstockand close-up cow management.

This sales manager has a good relationship with the herd veterinarian,and one of them had suggested a meeting to review possible changes. I wasinvited to join the meeting, which also included the owner and herd manager.

The herd veterinarian led the discussion. This was appropriate. He isthe one who will be working with the herd on an on-going basis, and he isclearly the leader of the team. He came prepared with a list of topics toreview. He shared his input first, and I added as I saw opportunity to contribute.We spent approximately an hour in the farm office in discussion mode.

Take a look

From there, we went out and looked over the cows and facilities. It isimportant to allow plenty of time for this part of the visit, or thingswill be missed. As we stood at the feed bunk and just watched cows, we lookedat stall comfort, observed the degree of lameness, evaluated cleanliness,noted cud chewing, checked out air quality and simply watched how cows movedabout.

We also looked at the TMR in the bunk, noting particle length, freshnessand consistency. Manure was evaluated. As we watched animals eating, wecould get some sense of how much sorting was occurring. All the while, someconversation was going on, with ideas and suggestions flowing back and forth.This same process was repeated with dry cow and springers. Young-stock werehoused at a different location, and we did not get to that farm.

After spending an hour or so watching animals and looking at facilities,we returned to the office to develop an action plan. At this juncture itis crucial to determine what the owner wants to do. There is little pointin outlining a plan that does not have the commitment from management tocarry it out. It is best to work on three or four areas at most, or thelist becomes overwhelming, and nothing gets done.

Come up with ideas

At this farm we came up with four suggestions. They were:

·Install rubber belting along feed alleys and in the holdingarea. We had noted some degree of lameness, and after a lot of discussion,concluded that some mechanical laminitis was probably occurring. The costof rubber belting for limited areas is comparatively low, and we thoughtthis would give a quick pay back. The owner agreed.

· Improve the nutrition program to growing heifers. Whilewe did not see these animals, we agreed the first lactation animals in theherd were old but small. Our sales manager agreed to formulate better rationsfor these animals.

· Improve bunk space for close-up cows, in order to encouragedry matter intake and reduce post calving problems. We formulated some remodelingplans to do this.

· Grind corn finer to improve digestibility. Since thecorn was in the TMR, we thought a finer grind would not compromise rumenhealth, but allow for better production.

These four objectives are definitely achievable, and all of us supportedtheir pursuit. The herd veterinarian and our sales manager can follow-upon the execution. I remain in my proper role, as an additional resourceto be used if needed. The leadership position of the attending doctor hasbeen solidified, and progress can be made.

The farm visit described above was an example of a team forming and workingtogether for a good outcome. It required some communication and cooperationahead of time. The owner had to recognize the value of having his veterinarianinvolved, and be willing to pay for his time. That veterinarian had to beable to set aside a morning to participate. The sales manager and I simplyhad to be available to contribute as needed.

When all of this came together, we had a "win-win-win" situation.

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