Editor’s note: The following Practice Builder ran in the March 18, 2011, edition of this newsletter and is being repeated here.  

Veterinarians and nutritionists tend to have overlapping roles on dairy farms.        

As a nutritionist, you may have complained a time or two that a veterinarian has encroached on your territory. Veterinarians may complain, as well, about you encroaching into the area of cow health, disease diagnosis and disease prevention.

But, in order to be successful and for your clients to thrive, it’s important to develop a working relationship with the veterinarians who service your client herds.

This happens through communication. And communication is a two-way street. Keith Sterner, veterinarian with Sterner Veterinary Clinic in Ionia, Mich., and Bob Krieger, dairy specialist with Land O’Lakes Purina Feeds in Remus, Mich., have developed what they feel to be a successful working relationship. Sterner and Krieger have worked together on one herd for more than 11 years.

Sterner and Krieger offer the following advice to build a good relationship with your herd veterinarians:

  • Call the herd veterinarian not only when things are going wrong, but also when things are going right, too. We’re all busy; every one of us has information overload, but it’s as simple as a phone call just to check in on your client’s herd.
  • When there is an issue with a client’s herd, at a minimum have a phone conversation with the veterinarian, if not a face-to-face meeting. This ensures that nothing is misunderstood and the client gets an opportunity to hear from both the nutritionist and the veterinarian.
  • You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There has to be a reality check on the part of the veterinarian and nutritionist. You can’t control the weather conditions the crops were harvested under. And once the forages are ensiled, there is almost nothing to be done.
  • Don’t blame each other. Everyone is quick to blame the nutritionist, but everything happens through people and you have to work together to solve problems, not blame each other.
  • Do a walk-through together. If you see a problem with too many displaced abomasums, ketosis or other metabolic problems, call the veterinarian and meet at the farm and do a walk-through. Multiple sets of eyes may find things that one set of eyes may not.
  • Have face-to-face meetings. A lot of problems can be solved over the phone, but face-to-face meetings between the nutritionist and veterinarian can pay dividends.
  • Teamwork. Recognize the skill-set the other party can bring to the table. View veterinarians as a resource to reach out to and discuss nutrition and herd-health issues with them.
  • Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Neither the veterinarian nor the nutritionist can be afraid to voice an opinion if he or she feels something is coming up short on the dairy. Share information. Share not only your notes on the herd with the veterinarian, but also share any new research that you receive with him or her.
  • At the end of the day, it all comes back to communication. “It’s as simple as that, and it’s as complicated as that,” says Sterner.