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What will dairy clients of the future want?
"Where were you when the terrorist attacks occurred in September?" I imagine that question will come up often in the years to come, much as it does regarding the assassination of JFK or Pearl Harbor for previous generations. I think I will always remember being in the fitness room of my hotel in Vancouver, B.C., while attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
"Where were you when the terrorist attacks occurred in September?"
I imagine that question will come up often in the years to come, muchas it does regarding the assassination of JFK or Pearl Harbor for previousgenerations. I think I will always remember being in the fitness room ofmy hotel in Vancouver, B.C., while attending the annual meeting of the AmericanAssociation of Bovine Practitioners.
The convention itself was altered considerably, as the subsequent cancellationof flights prevented both speakers and attendees from arriving. While thenumber of people in attendance was cut by roughly 50 percent, the qualityof the meeting was still excellent. Many of those who had arrived earlyfor pre-convention seminars filled in for the scheduled speakers, and theshow went on.
One of the more fascinating talks for me was a presentation by Dr. WalterGuterbock, entitled "What I've learned about veterinary medicine sincebecoming a dairyman".
Guterbock was a dairy practitioner for several years in California, andis now managing partner of a 600-cow dairy farm. His comments are availablein the proceedings from the meeting. They focus primarily on what largerherds need from their veterinarian.
Guterbock's perspective is somewhat similar to my own. I serve as thedirector of the Agway T.S.P.F. Heifer Program. We have roughly 10,000 animalson four facilities in New York and Pennsylvania. As such, our needs fromthe veterinarians who serve us are similar to the herds to which Guterbockreferred. I should state at the outset that we do receive excellent servicefrom the practices that serve our facilities.
Prevention and control
With large numbers of animals, there is an overwhelming need to preventand control disease. To do this, we need a very accurate diagnosis whenanimals become sick. While saving the individual animal is certainly desirable,knowing the etiological agent, antibiotic sensitivity and logical treatmentand control procedures for the pen is paramount. Necropsies and appropriatelab procedures are often needed.
I think this is also true on larger dairy farms. I still consult withone such operation, and the lay staff on that farm can diagnose all of theroutine illnesses of dairy cattle with proficiency. When non-routine diseaseappears, they need and want information on how to control it from a herdviewpoint. Again, necropsies and use of diagnostic labs is frequently neededto make an accurate diagnosis of non-routine disease conditions. Withoutthe diagnosis, control and prevention is difficult.
Small changes add up
Another factor that comes up with larger units is that small changesin disease levels add up to huge income losses. Guterbock offered the exampleof displaced abomasums.
On a 60-cow herd, a 10 percent incidence means roughly six per year,or one every-other-month. This will probably be seen as acceptable.
For a herd with 3,000 cows, this obviously becomes 300 per year, or almostone per day. The financial losses associated with that number of displacementsare very large. The veterinarian who can help the large farm reduce thatincidence to 5 percent is more valuable than the one who does the surgeries.
On one of our facilities, we experienced an abortion rate of 7 percent,despite a very comprehensive vaccination program. Reducing that rate to3 percent on that farm meant saving 60 abortions a year. Thus, the importanceof finding the cause and designing a program to control it was extremelyimportant.
It is simply a fact of life that the lay staff of larger units will performmany of the procedures that practitioners do on smaller ones.
I was recently on a private farm where the lay herdsman was using anultrasound to do pregnancy exams at 32 days. However, there is a real opportunityfor dairy veterinarians to serve the larger farms by providing training.This results in a benefit to the owners, the staff, the cows and to thepractitioner.
Logical areas for veterinarians to offer training include heat detection,breeding technique, milking procedures, colostrum management, physical exams,IV administration, calf delivery and many more. If you can provide writtenprotocols, with diagrams to provide clarity, then your value increases tremendously.
While most herdsmen will not expect their veterinarian to provide financialmanagement advice, it is very helpful to understand the financial impactof herd performance compared to individual animals. Saving a cow with anRDA is of little consequence compared to the pregnancy rate by 2 percent.Similarly, a change in milking procedure that increases throughput by 10cows per hour will generate far more profit than saving a cow with coliformmastitis.
The typical dairy farmer of the future will value the practitioner whocan make suggestions that significantly improve the bottom line, much morethan one who is skillful at doing a fetotomy.
Change is only constant
All of the points outlined in this article simply apply one of the fundamentalrules of our time to the dairy industry. Changes are occurring at an ever-increasingrate.
Many of your clients will be changing, and they will survive. You willneed to do the same.
Dr. Gardner is director of animal health and herd economicsat Keystone Agway. He also consults with dairy practitioners on practicemanagement.