There are lots of similarities between a veterinary practice and a dairy farm. Both are typically small businesses with employees, and the people involved have a love for the dairy industry and cows. One difference, however, is that dairy farms are producers of goods, while veterinary practices are a service-based business, yet we have the same goal — a successful, healthy dairy farm.
And, each must deal with today’s challenges to dairy farming and agriculture, including:
1. Animal-welfare issues and attacks from animal-rights organizations.
2. Dairy cow and calf handling, transport and housing.
3. Incorporation of technology in food-production systems.
4. Use of antibiotics and other drugs in food animals.
5. Drug residues in meat and milk.
I am convinced that one of the keys to overcoming these challenges is for dairy farms to fully partner with and utilize the services of veterinarians.
Your veterinarian is an ideal resource for addressing each of these issues on YOUR farm. While your farm may not be the subject of an undercover video, or on the list of residue violators, what others in our industry do can have an adverse effect on OUR operations.
How can your veterinarian help?
Regular herd-health visits
Historically, these regular visits have focused on reproductive exams. And this is an important collaboration with your veterinarian. But, there are lots of other things your veterinarian can do at these farm visits, like evaluating animal body condition, assessing lameness, evaluating housing/ventilation, discussing milk quality and monitoring calf health, to name a few. Use your veterinarian’s wide range of expertise while he or she is at your farm. Don’t limit your veterinarian to reproductive exams only.
Appropriate drug use
Every farm should have written treatment protocols for common diseases in cows and calves. The first step in residue avoidance is to follow a protocol, monitor it, and keep accurate treatment records so proper withholding times are followed.
If you haven’t already done so, ask your veterinarian to assist your farm in developing these protocols, including record-keeping and employee training. Be sure to share these records with your veterinarian so you can adapt protocols and processes going forward.
In addition, every farm should have dehorning, lameness and pain-management protocols in place. There is no reason to improperly dehorn calves today with the anesthetic and pain-management options we have available. Ask your veterinarian how you should deal with these issues.
All animals on our farms deserve proper care, which includes humane euthanasia if recovery is not possible and suffering is evident. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to properly euthanize cows and calves on your farm.
Consumers want to have confidence that the dairy products they eat and drink are of the highest quality. If you are having milk-quality problems, ask your veterinarian to intervene and assist your farm in achieving the milk-quality goals you desire.
Employee and management advice
Your veterinarian can be a part of the team that helps you train your employees to help them succeed. We can also help you make positive business decisions for your farm by helping you evaluate what impact these decisions might have on cow health and productivity.
The retiring veterinarian in our practice told me this week that he constantly worried about his dairy farmers, and I agreed with him! Your veterinarian cares deeply about you and your business.
Sometimes, farmers see the veterinarian as a monthly expense, wondering what the value in the expense might be and should it be decreased. However, your veterinarian is a valuable expert resource for your farm and that monthly expense is actually an investment. How may I help you?
Fred Gingrich is a practicing veterinarian and owner of Country Roads Veterinary Services, Inc., in Ashland, Ohio.