Use a foal care program to build your practice (sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)


A foal care program can still be an important profit center in your practice.

Equine breeding tends to ebb and flow with the economy, something many of you are witnessing firsthand as equine practitioners. But you can still make foal care services work for you—and earn your practice aprofit—if you take time to tailor the program to your practice and your client base. Whether you already have a foal care program that simply needs a little refreshing or you're considering starting from scratch, use these tips to build the program that offers the most benefits for you, your clients, and your patients.

Photo: Getty Images

Is it right for you?

How do you decide whether a foal care program is right for your practice? There are a few criteria you need to evaluate to determine whether it's a service your clients will embrace, says Tracey O'Driscoll-Packer, an equine business and practice management consultant.

Is your practice driven by professional horse owners and breeders, or is it driven by private horse owners? Clients who own their own facilities may be less likely to need foal care services. But if you have a large group of horse owners who need help with the foaling process, a program might be right for your practice.

One side effect of the current economy is lower numbers for professional breeders, Packer says. Look at whether those breeding facilities are interested in outsourcing. And evaluate whether some of your clients are still breeding their own horses. If you can identify their needs, you can create a structured program. Additional modifications also do wonders.

Next, Packer says, consider whether you can offer a foal care service package. The advantages: Clients buy in for a set number of services and they can budget the care.

"Foaling and foal care can be as much an art as science, and medical needs can be difficult to predict," Packer says. "But a package program allows owners to budget for unexpected expenses, and it gives veterinarians the opportunity to build even stronger bonds with those owners."

Tailor your plan

Depending on your clients, facility, and team members, attended foalings at your facility can be a great tool to ease anxious horse owners and simultaneously offer the best medical care for the mare.

"Horse owners waiting for a foal can get jumpy," Packer says. "They may not know what spells trouble and what's normal. A veterinarian providing a watchful eye is a valuable service for nervous horse owners."

Packer says she's always in favor of attended foalings, because the mortality rate in a natural environment is very high. "One of the nice things about an attended foaling is that so many little things that go wrong are fixable and can lead to a successful, nontraumatic delivery," she says.

However, if your clients are retreating from attended foalings, she says you can still structure a consultative program that supports the mare. This program might include a prefoaling consultation to check the mare and make sure the foaling space is safe and protected. You can also ensure the client has a foaling kit, discuss how the horse owner plans to handle observation, and talk about signs of labor and interrupted labor. Your program might also include the new-foal exam and the postfoaling exam on the mare.

Just keep in mind, when you're creating a plan it's a good idea to do some research about the services your clients have used in the past. Then you can offer a package deal for those services at a modest discount and lock in the care the horse needs. And, Packer says, it's important to be clear about what's offered in the package. For example, extra services the mare requires, such as daily flushing due to a retained placenta, will be additional costs outside the package amount.

Programs that work

If you've already created an effective program and you've seen it decline because clients are breeding less, Packer recommends staying the course and considering whether you need to raise fees and revisit expenses to keep the program cost-effective. While the next few years may show an increase in the number of clients breeding their horses, the key is to base your profitability on quality instead of quantity.

"I wouldn't let the economy put me off from starting a program," Packer says. "Quite the opposite. Look at your clients and find out what they need. If you can provide the service at a value to them and still create a profit, it's a win for everyone. Remember, anytime you create a program, you're creating an opportunity. You're creating consultative relationships with clients and scheduling planned interactions."

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