New treatment approach needed as vets look to go

More than 25% of vets are considering leaving large animal practice within the next decade, so it is critical that farmer/vet relations are scrutinised to ensure both parties benefit from each others’ businesses.

Results from Farmers Weekly’s exclusive nationwide survey of vets highlighted that 18% of respondents won’t be serving large animal clients in 10 years’ time. A further 9% probably won’t or were unsure.

The issue is complex.

The fall in producer numbers and relatively low income generated from agriculture compared with pets is forcing a change of priority among some vets.

At the same time producers see vet bills as a significant cost.

A sense of worth is needed, admits Neil Howie of Nantwich Vet Group, Cheshire.

“As a profession we’re bad at providing farm clients with a cost/benefit comparison.

We need to demonstrate value.”

A move away from emergency vet intervention to a more holistic approach where producers are helped to understand disease and pressures faced by stock has to be made, he suggests.

“It would be helped if record systems demonstrated the effect on animal health by changing more than one variable.

Sadly, that is lacking.”

Importantly for producers there is a sense among vets that attendance is often when animal health has already failed.

That must change, says Ian Gill of Thrums Vet Group, Angus.

“When cost is the issue it must be remembered that preventative medicine gives greater value.”

In line with other vets, Mr Gill suggests producers could improve the service received.

“Understanding disease on-farm is critical. Reviewing routine treatments pays dividend; for example, re-timing pour-ons for ewes going back to hill grazing can help tackle the growing issue of tick control.

“Producers need to be more aware of new disease moving into their area such as fluke or Johne’s.

Isolating bought-in stock for a period of observation helps.”

Costs can be cut by planning routine medicine purchases, allowing practices to bulk buy, he adds.

Some producers have taken the cost issue a stage further.

Peter Joules, who runs 800 dairy cows in Kent, is looking to contract vet help on a fixed fee basis.

“It comes down to being able to know costs at the start of the year, rather than face unpredictable monthly bills.”

Based on recent expenditure Mr Joules reckons 35 a cow to include routine and emergency assistance and a defined list and quantity of treatments is reasonable.

“Vets are professional people, but their connection with economics is often lacking; this should put the focus on costs on both sides,” he says.

Concerned over the decline in vet services, a group of 50 producers in northern England is considering employing two full-time vets, having already secured staff to cover each members’ routine vet needs.

Buying medicines direct also helps cut costs with a small profit helping pay vet fees, says a spokesman.

Contracts between pig producers and vets are commonplace, says Ian Campbell of the National Pig Association.

“It’s a key part of quality assurance schemes.

But vets suggest there is still a lack of preparation ahead of visits, particularly making records readily available.”