In recent years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicinehas noted fewer of its students enrolling in food animal courses. Looking ahead, that could cause problems for the state's dairy industry as fewer veterinarians are available to meet their herds' health needs.

Nigel Cook, head of the school's Food Animal Production Medicine section, believes this trend may be largely a result of lifestyle choices.

"We are drawing from a pool of high school students that are becoming increasingly urbanized, one step removed from agriculture with little access to positive role models working in agriculture," he says. "Even worse, they are often exposed to negative information about agricultural practices, which is often misinformed."

For individuals who do have a farm animal interest, the prospect of a $100,000 debt load at the end of their veterinary training can deter them to other career options. The predictable hours and higher salaries of small animal practice become very attractive to the majority of students.

To address the issue, the School of Veterinary Medicineactively recruits individuals with an interest in large animal medicine, and has established a dairy teaching herd that provides milking and herd management experience for students. In addition, with the help of faculty, second-year veterinary medical students are currently planning a series of weekend large animal recruitment sessions for selected high school students.

The need for large animal veterinarians is acute in Wisconsin. The state has 14,396 licensed dairy herds and an average of 87 cows per dairy farm. According to the state Veterinary Medical Association, 45 percent of all state veterinarians in 1997 provided care to dairy cows on a daily basis. In 2007, that number has fallen to 32 percent.

Source:  Universityof Wisconsin